Over the summer, we were delighted to welcome a new cohort of interns to the MRC Biostatistics Unit (BSU). Our internship programme provides those with an interest in data science and knowledge of statistics to join the Unit for 8 weeks to work on projects being led by BSU researchers. They carry out data analysis, take part in research team meetings, present their findings, and get involved in all aspects of life at the BSU.
Following the success of our internships in 2021 and finding out how valuable their experiences were, we increased the programme to enable 10 places, coordinated by Hélène Ruffieux and Pavel Mozgunov. Our 2022 interns were Emily Alger, Bethan White, Emila Gibson, James Lane, James He, Grace Huang, Wynn Cheng, Joseph Piekos, Thomas Slater and Andrew Challenger.
This year we were so pleased to be able to host the interns in person, which meant they came into the BSU offices to work on their projects, attended meetings and seminars, and most importantly met and networked with BSU researchers. Here, three of them give detail about their experiences and what they gained from their time spent at the Unit.
“I began my internship just after graduating from the University of Warwick. I had a PhD lined up beginning in October, but I had a three-month holiday to spare beforehand. I wasn’t planning on interning, but this opportunity seemed perfect.
Under the supervision of Dr Abigail Burdon and Dr David Robertson, my project focused on the properties of the novel, Restricted Mean Survival Time endpoint within fixed sample size clinical trials. To evaluate the success of this endpoint (using Power and Type I error) I learnt to run clinical trial simulations, optimise my code, and evaluate errors. This internship gave me the opportunity to stretch my R skills, experience the journey of academic research and network with the immensely knowledgeable statisticians who work at the BSU.
There is a fantastic community within the BSU, not only is the research here world-leading but everyone wants to share their knowledge and guidance with you. Every question I asked, whether it be relevant to my project, research or curiosity was always answered in the most positive and informative way. I felt like I was part of the research community and actively completing research which was not only interesting, but which could make a difference to my field.
If you are thinking of applying, then go for it! If you have an enthusiasm for statistics you’re already eligible, you don’t need to have completed research within the biomedical field before. I’m a huge advocate for exploring fields before you begin your career, arrive open minded, don’t be scared to push yourself and see whether academic research is for you!”
“Going into my internship, I was between my 3rd and 4th years of an integrated masters course in Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Oxford, thinking about applying to PhD programmes for the next year. I have always been interested in biostatistics, so the research assistant internship at the BSU this summer was the perfect opportunity to experience what it might be like to do a PhD.
My project with Andrew Grant was to apply dimension reduction techniques to a high-dimensional brain imaging dataset with 20,000 participants, with a view to apply the results in a Mendelian Randomisation study, examining causal relationships between brain imaging measurements and neurological conditions. Before starting the internship, I had not studied Mendelian Randomisation, so the first few weeks consisted of learning about the subject, including reading lots of papers, and then exploring the large dataset that I would use. I particularly enjoyed this stage of the project, because I had the opportunity to learn about the topic in depth, which I found very rewarding. We also had the chance to present our findings to the rest of the BSU, in our last week. This was the first time that I had presented my work in this way, so it was a very valuable experience to have, and I found the feedback from this very useful.
The BSU was a great work environment – everyone was very welcoming and friendly, and my supervisor Andrew was really helpful and supportive throughout the internship. We were invited to the weekly internal BSU Together meetings, where we could hear about other researchers’ work. We also had frequent careers talks organised for us, some from current PhD students and some from more senior researchers. These were very useful because we could ask any questions about careers in biostatistics, and about PhDs in general.
The internship was invaluable for making the decision to pursue a career in biostatistics research, and was really enjoyable and rewarding. I would like to thank everyone at the BSU for making it such a great experience!”
“Coming from an unconventional background – a medical student with a strong interest in statistics – I was incredibly grateful to be given this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join the BSU, one of the most rigorous and prestigious biostatistics institutions worldwide.
My project was a great blend of methodology and application. I worked with Brian Tom and Robert Goudie on modelling multiple dimensions of treatment exposure in the setting of rheumatoid arthritis, whose patients are typically given standardised yet dynamic treatment regimens encompassing different drugs, dosages, routes, and frequency of administration. In the first few weeks, I did literature review to learn about existing approaches to modelling time-varying treatment exposure and applied them to our dataset. In later weeks, we performed statistical analyses to characterise patients’ disease activity associated with longitudinal drug exposure and certain treatment combinations. Through our work, I yielded an insight that while we often sought to explore methodologies that are more generalised and applicable to different contexts, and hence robust to misspecification, the biological/clinical context is still tremendously important to how we approach analysis. This has re-affirmed my passion in biostatistics and its application to answer important questions.
The working and research environment were excellent. My weekly meetings with Brian and Robert were incredibly fruitful and productive – both have been very supportive in every way. Chatting with different researchers at the Unit, either through career talks or big-group meetings, was highly stimulating and gave me a better idea of a BSU academic’s day-to-day as well as the different sub-field of biostatistics research. I also loved our social activities with other BSU colleagues and fellow interns.
It is an understatement to say that the internship was a life-changing experience. Thank you for giving a medical student a chance and supporting me throughout the internship.”