Getting a taste for research

I have grown up in the Forest of Dean, which is beautiful but lacks opportunities for young people and is extremely rural and secluded. Starting university at Cardiff was an eye-opener, and this year I was keen to stay in Cardiff over the summer break and make the most of the opportunities on offer. I had been set on working in government, but with the help of Andrew Dodge, the placement manager in the School of Social Sciences, I found a placement at DECIPHer. This was offered through the CUROP (Cardiff Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme) scheme, which provides opportunities for students to do a paid work placement within the university.

At the time I had just applied to do my dissertation in health inequalities so the DECIPHer placement was right up my street. I did some more research on health inequalities and DECIPHer itself – I really had my heart set on it, despite there being tough competition – and I was lucky enough to be offered the placement.  I thought my time at DECIPHer was going to be like my friends’ CUROP schemes, where they have their own project which they work on and then present. But I was very wrong! Instead, I have been actively involved in a number of different DECIPHer projects.

I have worked with Graham Moore on a systematic review of universal school interventions. These are interventions applied to everyone in a school, rather than targeted at pupils with certain characteristics (e.g. only boys or those with a BMI above 26). This work has developed my knowledge and understanding of how complex and demanding quantitative data can be. I also have been working with Gillian Hewitt on the tailored feedback reports that are prepared for each school in the School Health Research Network using school-level data from the Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children survey. This included secondary research to inform what was included in the school feedback reports, calculating the percentage of children receiving free school meals (FSM) in many different Welsh schools, and developing graphs for the reports on the school environment. I am now starting some work on the inverse care law with Adam Fletcher and Graham Moore, which should be interesting as this is not an area I have researched before.

Small children at nursery school eating fruit and smiling.

A lot of the work I’ve done at DECIPHer has looked at school-based health promotion.

I’m really enjoying my time at DECIPHer, it has been really interesting and my fears that I’d just get stuck making hot drinks for the staff turned out to be unfounded! All of the work I have completed so far on this placement will be very beneficial for my dissertation, in which I am hoping to look at the diets of Cardiff University undergraduates. Being involved in so many different projects means I’ve developed skills that will help with specific aspects of my dissertation. Maybe more importantly, though, my time here has vastly improved my overall understanding of health inequalities and the stages and complexity of health research. The placement has also given me a much better understanding of what real research employment is like.

Everyone at DECIPHer has been really welcoming, which is very different to what I have previously experienced in employment. I’ve got a lot out of the placement, and it has strengthened my ambition to work in research. I am extremely interested in doing a Master’s degree and PhD in Health after meeting the DECIPHer PhD students (despite how stressful it looks towards the end!). I’ve never been able to see myself working in anything without a learning element so it’s been great to discover that this is something I really enjoy.

 About the author: Emily Lowthian is an undergraduate student at Cardiff University, about to enter her 3rd year of a degree in Sociology and Social Policy. She spent eight weeks working at DECIPHer as part of the CUROP (Cardiff Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme) scheme

Image source: North Charleston, via Flickr.

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