Reflecting on experiences from the ‘In2Research’ placement programme
By Abigail Woodward, on 4 August 2022
This blog is written by Rasha Meah (Student Researcher, In2Research Placement) and Dr Abi Woodward (Research Fellow, Research Department of Primary Care and Population Health).
For the first time, the Research Department of Primary Care and Population Health (PCPH) has hosted an In2Research placement. In2Research aims to improve access to postgraduate research degrees and careers for people from ethnic minority and/or low socioeconomic backgrounds. By providing a placement, hosts play a vital role in supporting and empowering people to pursue a career in research.
In June 2022, Rasha Meah joined PCPH for an 8-week research placement. She was supervised by Dr Abi Woodward and contributed to a project that explores the self-management of multiple long-term conditions in people experiencing socioeconomic deprivation.
Rasha Meah, Student Researcher:
I am a second-year undergraduate studying Psychology at Queen Mary University of London. Most of my study was during the pandemic, when gaining additional experience became particularly difficult. I was searching through my university’s career website when I found an internship opportunity by In2Research, which involved a funded research placement.
As someone with little experience of qualitative research outside of university, this placement was a chance to explore a passion for research and pursue a future career in academia. I applied but did not expect to be selected. I was also sure that I would not be able to get my first choice; even after working rigorously on my academic CV and preparing for my interview. I feel fortunate and grateful to have succeeded in both.
To structure my placement, I had weekly supervision meetings with Abi, where we would discuss upcoming tasks and the progress I had made. This gave me a sense of routine as my weeks would vary. It also provided me with a comfortable space to bring up any concerns I had which eased my anxieties.
When I started my placement, I was briefed about supporting some public engagement and knowledge exchange workshops. Two of the workshops (remote and face-to-face) took place in my first week. They focused on how to increase research participation among people from low socioeconomic status (SES) groups. Even after attending the first workshop on zoom, I still didn’t feel prepared for the face-to-face workshop and what it would be like interacting with so many people, in the same room (and at such short notice)! Nonetheless, I helped meet and greet participants, answered their questions, and developed my organisation skills through keeping a record of key points during lively discussion. I found it humbling to listen to how people managed their conditions and how academics needed to consider the disadvantages people face.
The third workshop took place remotely and looked at how academics can work more collaboratively with voluntary and community sector organisations during research. This experience taught me how to clearly communicate information to a range of stakeholder groups and work collaboratively with others.
Following a very busy first couple of weeks, the focus for my placement turned to some more ‘core’ tasks where I checked interview transcripts for accuracy against audio recordings. Listening to the audio recordings helped me become familiar with the key themes emerging from the study. I also shadowed Abi in face-to-face and remote research interviews which challenged my active listening skills so having some background beforehand really helped. During the interviews I observed how, as a researcher, Abi navigated the topic guide and probed participants to elicit more information. The face-to-face interview took place in London and had the challenge of commuting and being in an unfamiliar environment but yielded more in-depth answers, whereas the remote interviews were direct and more accessible (besides occasional tech difficulties). I found the latter more enjoyable as I could focus on the interviewing technique and answers without having to worry about my own behaviour and whether my presence was impacting the interview.
I also took ownership of a systematic review project where I reviewed 26 studies, looking into the barriers and facilitators of diabetes self-management among low SES groups. I was supported throughout and began at the data extraction stage. I then did a quality assessment and moved onto the thematic synthesis using NVivo. This task was especially daunting as I had only encountered the process of coding briefly in my studies. After asking many questions and continuous reorganisation of the coding framework, I moved onto writing up the results section of the paper which helped develop my critical analysis skills.
The most important lesson this experience has taught me is to recognise that success can be attained with passion and perseverance. This project has been an especially rewarding experience, and thanks to the support of my wonderful supervisor, I have developed research skills that I can use throughout my future academic and professional career.
Abi Woodward, Placement host/supervisor
I found supervising and mentoring Rasha to be an extremely fulfilling experience and would encourage others to be an In2Research placement host. I invested a lot of time in planning a work schedule for Rasha, making sure that she got the most out of the experience and had a variety of research related tasks. An important part for me was arranging some participant interviews for Rasha to observe so that she could get hands-on experience. It was great to be able to share some of the knowledge and expertise that I have acquired over the years, especially with someone so keen and willing to learn. I look forward to hearing about what Rasha goes on to do next!