Guest Blog: My time as DDI summer intern

In this blog DDI intern Lucia Mackenzie describes her time with us this summer. 

I was originally drawn to the Data Driven Innovation programme in February 2020 by the scope of the work being done in collaboration with such a wide variety of sectors and academic disciplines. As a student of Politics with Quantitative Methods, to many people a seemingly incongruous niche course but to me a yin and yang type degree, the interdisciplinary nature of the DDI’s work fascinated me. Better still, there were applications open for an internship writing case studies about projects being conducted in areas ranging from finance, to health, to creative industries – all interwoven with the thread of data.

Between submitting my application in February and beginning my 3 month role as Communications and Research Intern in June, a global pandemic turned the world upside down. For most of us life ground to a halt momentarily before resuming at a far slower pace than before, but for the projects using data to innovate in different sectors everything rapidly became urgent.

 

My Experience

Over the course of the summer I became well versed in the process of going from a couple of introductory emails to interviews with experts and case studies collating the wealth of information they provided. I had the good fortune to interview a wide variety of people, from seasoned academics, to CEOs and founders, to creatives and clinicians. I feel that I, as a second year undergraduate, have received a fantastic opportunity from the DDI early in my career, and I particularly enjoyed hearing from some of the new generation of academics and researchers who are working at the heart of these pioneering projects.

Through the process, and particularly because I was working remotely, I learned a huge amount (not only about email and Microsoft Teams). I was thrown in the deep end, going from having never conducted an interview to virtual meetings with 14 experts to discuss their work. I became familiar and comfortable with the process of preparing questions based on research and being flexible and responsive during interviews in order to glean as much information as possible. I also learned how to adjust my writing style for different forms of media and rediscovered how much I enjoy the process of going from a blank page to a cohesive piece of work.

 

Reflections on Interdisciplinarity

Mixing complementary subject areas has always been part of my approach to life, maybe because I can’t seem to choose which path I like best. However, this internship has given me a new appreciation for interdisciplinarity.

The use of data has the potential to enrich sectors that are traditionally valued based on their inherently human characteristics, such as the creative industries, care, or charity. Through speaking to creatives I learned about how they use technology to enhance products and performances and to monetise their passion. Charity leaders and care providers discussed with me the way data can identify the most vulnerable and help with the improvement of their treatment. Leaders at local colleges explained to me their intention to introduce data science modules in a myriad of non-STEM subjects to enhance the learning of students. Even in the traditionally numeric sector of finance the increased availability of data has the potential, when used correctly, to improve outcomes for the general public and bring about inclusive growth.

 

I was fortunate to learn about these projects in their early years, some right at their inception, and hope in future to marvel at how much they have grown and contributed to Edinburgh and South East Scotland.

 

To read the case studies mentioned and written by Lucia click here.

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