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In this blog post, Zander Simpson, who joined us briefly over the summer, share his thoughts and experiences working as an intern with the Health Experience Group.

There’s 104 days of summer vacation and school comes along just to end it. So the annual problem for our generation is finding a good way to spend it.” – Phineas and Ferb, 2008

While this late 2000s cartoon might have calculated a slightly different figure than some students on their holiday, the sentiment of their message remains true: how do we fill the break for summer?

Arriving at the same answer as many other students, I decided to apply for an internship. Using your degree as a starting point may narrow down the search for internship opportunities early on, but studying Human Sciences kept my options wide open, as it covers the breadth of biological and social sciences.

After weighing up a few options, I contacted one of the researchers in the Medical Sociology & Health Experiences Research Group asking if there was anyone in the department interested in having an intern. Presented with the choice of an internship with the research group or a social enterprise with another organisation, I chose to work with the research group on a project about people’s experiences of COVID-19 and their recovery.

Aiming to collect a diverse range of people’s experiences of COVID and recovery during the pandemic, the project (more of which can be seen here) is narrative led, with participants telling their stories of the pandemic before researchers use prompts to introduce broad areas of discussion. Also covering people’s experiences of accessing healthcare services during the pandemic, the research aims to aid the development of community support, health and social care services, and inform the general public. Healthtalk, an online platform (which can be accessed here), will act as a record of both the medical aspects of COVID-19 and the broader impact it has on people’s lives.

As a research assistant intern, my time has been split between working on the project and training in research skills, with a mix of self-teaching and tutorials from Amelia Talbot (a current DPhil student also working on the project). Checking transcripts, writing participant biographies, and contacting participants made up most of the workload and has been an interesting way to get to grips with the scope of the project while also contributing to it.

After attending a seminar and having a tutorial on ethical approval forms, I worked on filling out an ethical checklist form (CUREC1) for a hypothetical project. As well as learning about some of the realities of planning research and obtaining funding, I found myself questioning the assumptions about qualitative studies I’d previously taken for granted, such as how to know when the appropriate number of participants has been reached.

Researchers on the project were very helpful in suggesting good starting places to read around these issues, but also encouraged me to follow my own lead. Similarly, after a tutorial in using NVivo (qualitative data management software), I practiced coding by working with papers related to vaccine hesitancy in Europe, and furthered my understanding of thematic analysis by watching lectures. This prompted me to take an online course about systematic reviews, as well as begin writing the protocol for a possible systematic review into vaccine hesitancy in the UK.

As the end of the six weeks draws closer, I’m planning to conduct a systematic review as preparation for a dissertation at the end of my degree, as well as considering how to continue developing the skills I’ve picked up from my time here for a career in social sciences research. I would highly recommend taking an internship with the department: it’s a great opportunity to approach the human side of health care, they’ve been brilliant at accommodating a novice to qualitative research, and have supported me in exploring my interests. While remote working has had some drawbacks, I’ve found it useful in the process of adjusting to the work-life balance and staying flexible.

While the whole experience has been very valuable for gaining insight into both the day-to-day reality of academia and the proposal of new research, my favourite part has been sharing ideas with the other researchers on the project and finding out what drew them to a research career to begin with. In summary, this has been a great way to spend the summer and I’m looking forward to what the next one might bring.

–  Zander Simpson

Zander is originally from Suffolk and starting their second year reading human sciences at Hertford College. They're considering a career in research, with an interest in ethnopharmacology, the relationship between mythology and medicine, as well as vaccine hesitancy.

Opinions expressed are those of the author/s and not of the University of Oxford. Readers' comments will be moderated - see our guidelines for further information.