Office for National Statistics
The benefits of my internship:
My initial aims from this internship were to (a) hone my statistics and data analysis skills, vital for my research, (b) engage in a number of applied data-related projects to better appreciate how the techniques and methods I am developing during my PhD extend outside of academia, and (c) become better informed about the type and nature of data held by the Office for National Statistics, and to determine how I might be able to access it for use in my PhD research.
I had the opportunity during the internship to work with 10 years of the National Pupil Database, a very large data set recording the examinations sat and the results achieved by students at Key Stage 4. My main project involved taking this raw data and using it to calculate a measure for the quality of state-funded education. In addition to fulfilling the first two of my goals by providing a challenging and engaging big data project, this work also required engagement with users of the statistics in order to ensure that the methods and results were both well-founded and useful. Taking part in this policy and user driven, rather than self driven, project provided me with a better appreciation of the necessity to identify research questions that are not only relevant from an academic perspective, but are also impactful and useful to a wider audience. I hope to take this approach more as I continue with my research, engaging more with my audience and being steered in my research by the types of questions that not only interest to those that will read my papers, but also those that my papers are commenting on.
In addition to the above, I had the opportunity to make a wide range of useful contacts that I have no doubt will help me in my future academic pursuits, ranging from those working in areas closely aligned with my primary research in healthcare (e.g. at the Department for Health), to those from wider backgrounds such as those working on mortality statistics, labour statistics, and more. Having the opportunity to present the work that I have conducted to them and discuss other areas of interest and possible future collaborations with them was a useful exercise.
The impact my internship made (or will make) to my PhD research or future career:
Undoubtedly, as noted above, the mindset, data analysis skills, contacts, information on data access, and more, will no doubt be valuable as I continue my PhD research and also in my future career within academia. Although the project itself was outside of my primary research domain, healthcare, it has provided me with a far better appreciation of the education sector and has opened my eyes to the possibility of working in other domains as and when those opportunities come available. I have come to appreciate that many of the skills that I possess are useful in areas outside of healthcare, and am now able to bring these experiences to bear in discussions with other academics, in my teaching, and in my research.
Why did I choose the institution in which I completed my internship?
My PhD research is primarily empirical in nature, and the type of work performed at the Office for National Statistics matched well with the set of skills that I possess and am seeking to develop further in order to perform stronger, sounder research. Working for a Government organisation was also beneficial as it afforded me the flexibility to explore areas of interest outside of the immediate project brief, to continue to pursue my own research interests, and to engage with a group of people who are informing policy and debate.