Dr Kathrin Cresswell

Chancellor’s Fellow and Director of Innovation, Deanery of Molecular, Genetic and Population Health Sciences, Usher Institute

What sparked your interest in health sciences?
I got into it by accident. I wanted to be a clinical psychologist at first but then got my first job as a researcher at the University of Edinburgh. I liked it, so I stayed. That was 13 years ago!

What did you study at university?
I studied psychology at Goldsmith’s in London – I liked it and wanted to keep going. But now I realise that I wouldn’t have been very good at it. Even though I like people and want to understand their thoughts and motivations, I would find it difficult to deal with serious clinical issues. I’m just too sensitive.

Tell us about a typical day of work?
I start checking emails in bed before the kids get up. I’m slightly addicted to my phone and I know that’s bad. I drop the kids off and either go to a café where I start working, or I go for my first meeting. I love the flexibility that I can work wherever and whenever I want. My day is a mixture of meetings, emails and writing reports/publications.

Can you tell us more about the work going on at the Usher Institute?
The Usher Institute is one of the University’s newest research institutes, opened in 2015. It has four centres: global health; medical informatics; population health; and biomedicine, self and society. We are 320 highly inter-disciplinary staff and one of five Data-Driven Innovation Hubs specialising in health and care.

What are you passionate about in your work?
Interdisciplinary working and impact. I really think academics can be so much better if they collaborate and aim to solve real-world problems. This needs to involve allowing others to challenge our own assumptions.

What data sets are you working with?
Qualitative datasets. I’m a social scientist, so I speak to people and either take notes or digitally record conversations.

What subject areas do you focus on?
I’m teaching the next generation of digital leaders as part of the NHS Digital Academy and co-leading a national evaluation of a large digital change programme in English hospitals. I’m also co-investigator on a Doctoral Training Centre in Biomedical Artificial Intelligence, and research healthcare innovation environments.

What is your favourite analysis technique?
I mainly do content/thematic analysis, which is based on identifying meaning and patterns of spoken/written text.

Is there anything you wish you could do more of?
I need more time to look at the data properly. The problem is that the opportunity to have true impact on policy and practice often comes and goes very quickly, so the data tends not to get the attention it deserves. The fact that most of my work is project based contributes to this, so if one project ends you tend to move on to the next and have no time to analyse data in depth.

Who is your heroine or hero?
I do have a few heroines: strong women who have energy, courage and professional credibility; whilst raising children, admitting their struggles (being humble) and treating others with respect.

What would you say to someone considering entering your field of research?
Social science is worth getting into because data science is not only about numbers. It’s about the people who create data, analyse data, and who act based on these insights.

What are you proud of in your career?
Consulting for the World Health Organization, being invited to talk at Harvard Medical School and presenting at the European Parliament.

Wow! What would you recommend to women and girls who’d like to get to your position?
Work hard, but also don’t be too hard on yourself and remember your core values. Try to be a good person and be nice to people around you.

Do you find your work supportive of women?
Overall – yes, because it’s flexible.

How much do you care about gender representation in data and technology?
Deeply. Not only gender equality but equality in general. I’m involved in something called One HealthTech, which is a network with the aim to promote the involvement of under-represented groups in health and care technology. I think this has to be the right way forward as all voices need to be heard if we want to tackle global challenges effectively.

Are you a believer in five-year career plans?
You need to know the general direction of travel for your career, but also be flexible to adjust to changing circumstances. Things rarely work out as planned and that’s a good thing!

What does the future hold for you?
I want to be a Professor specialising in formative evaluation methods of innovations in health and care settings. I also want to continue to enjoy my job and work on effectively balancing my family and work life.

What do you like to do when the working day is over?
Walk my dog and go to sleep!

Image of Dr Kathrin Cresswell
Picture by Lesley Martin, interview by Poppy Gerrard-Abbott

“Data science is not only about numbers. It’s about the people who create data, analyse data, and take action based on these insights”

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