This summer the MRC Biostatistics Unit (BSU) participated in the Nuffield Research Placement Scheme, where A-level students undertake a work placement in the summer before their last year of study. The highly academic and prestigious scheme places over 1000 students throughout the UK. The placements are very valuable to the students both in the high level of learning outcomes and as accreditation on their UCAS applications. It is also a very rewarding experience for the hosts, as demonstrations of public engagement and impact of pathways to progress. In East Anglia alone, there are over 450 applications for the 60 available places.
BSU were delighted to welcome Joshua Tustanowski, from Sawtry Village Academy, to work with Dr Simon White for four weeks on a biostatistics project. Joshua’s project was to analyse and report on data from a study into health ageing. The Cambridge Centre for Ageing and Neuroscience (Cam-CAN) study recruited over 2000 healthy people from across the Cambridgeshire area as a population sample. The aim of the study is to understand, from 18 to 88, healthy ageing using physical, behavioural and neuroimaging measures. The MRC Biostatistics Unit is helping to analyse and understand the vast amount of information and data recorded during the study. Joshua’s project concerned a specific cognitive task, the spot-the-word test that had yet to be analysed.
Over the four week period Joshua learnt to manage and process data from the cognitive test – coming across the important issues of data security, anonymity and research ethics. He also learnt to use new software (GNU R statistical software) to analyse the outcomes. Both Joshua and Simon discovered some interesting features of the data, specifically in terms of people who didn’t complete the task – so-called missing data issues, an area of Simon’s own research. Joshua also reported the findings to the wider Cam-CAN research group, gaining experience of presenting his work to a larger group of researchers. The project was a great success, furthering understanding of the spot-the-word test across all ages and the issues of incomplete data. More importantly, feeding this research back into the wider Cam-CAN research community helps to ensure the test is used appropriately in other research questions. As a result of Joshua’s fantastic work, Simon and a group of Cam-CAN researchers are writing a research paper to publish the findings.
The 2015 Nuffield Research Placement Scheme ended with an Awards Celebration in October at Anglia Ruskin University, organised by STEM Team East. All the students from the East Region were presented with a certificate to recognise their excellent work during their placements.
This was a very successful and rewarding scheme for both Joshua and Simon to take part in. BSU wishes Joshua and all the students the best of luck in their UCAS applications and STEM careers beyond. After talking with many of the students at the celebration event about their work and future plans, Simon is confident the placement scheme, and the wider STEM Ambassador programme, has helped inspire the researchers of tomorrow.