In April of this year, SAIL Databank showcased this year’s cohort of Swansea University Medical School students who will be using SAIL Databank as part of their 3rd year capstone research projects. Their projects will benefit from the vast repository of health, social and administrative data held within SAIL, helping nurture the next generation of potential data scientists and researchers. The programme is designed to increased the knowledge and expertise of these budding medical and data research professionals, under the mentorship and direction of their supervisors.
In May, all the students using SAIL this year were invited to present their research progress, plans and outcomes to the SAIL Databank Consumer Panel. Established in 2011, the Consumer Panel provide a public voice and gauges the social acceptability of research undertaken using data available within SAIL. The Consumer Panel is comprised of around a dozen members of the general public. The Panel’s role includes:
- Discussing proposals for research and the implications of findings.
- Providing views on data protection issues.
- Reviewing information designed for a lay audience.
- Offering guidance on how to recruit people to study steering groups.
- Advising on how best to engage with the wider public.
- Acting as advocates for data linkage research.
Ashley Akbari, Associate Professor in Population Data Science Research, says: “The integration of public and patient engagement into research is vital for the successful delivery and impact of all projects and was identified at the outset of the programme as an important part of the student’s use of SAIL, not only to get input on their work but to allow them exposure to this integral part of any research project as part of this student project opportunity using SAIL. This type of opportunity for students to engage with a public and patient group is not common across academic 3rd year projects, and as such, is seen as a huge strength and additional benefit for the students to their personal and professional development.
Several years ago, we engaged with the SAIL Consumer Panel to scope the potential for this type of student project using SAIL. They kindly provided us with great feedback at the time that helped shape the process and programme. We hope to further engage with the Consumer Panel over the coming years around further improvements and opportunities that can be realised around this and similar programmes for developing the next generation of data scientists and researchers.”
This step in the student’s research process highlights the importance of public and patient involvement in research and provides a valuable experience to present and adapt their research from public insight as they prepare to advance from learners to practitioners. Following the presentations, The Panel questioned each student project idea on specific areas of focus and themes, such as:
- Whether there were adequate numbers in a study’s population to sufficiently answer the research question.
- The representation of different ethnic groups in a study’s sample population.
- The potential for a study’s development for disease prevention.
- The application of the use of machine learning models on SAIL data.
- A study’s potential to build on SAIL data analysis by engaging with patients with a specific disease type.
- The potential to develop a study to draw comparisons between regional healthcare provisions to drive consistent clinical best practices.
The Panel also provided the students with the following general feedback:
“I really enjoyed the follow up presentations from the new 3rd year students who were able to use SAIL data in their final-year projects. It was great to see the impact/ effects of their research.”
“A fantastic group of projects, all students were confident with their projects, this showed with their ability to effectively answer questions. I feel this student initiative is an excellent concept, it is helping the students to develop ‘real life’ analytical / researcher skills, it is also offering SAIL the opportunity to learn from the students. Well done to all involved.”
“Always interesting to hear how the students looked and interpreted the research.”
The Chair of the SAIL Databank Consumer Panel, added, “Great to meet the current year 3 students and hear about the subjects they have researched, all of them spoke really well and it was easy to keep up with their presentation and results.”
Head of Swansea University Medical School and Professor of Human Immunology, Cathy Thornton, added, “It is great to see our undergraduates so enthusiastically engaged in data science research and taking this opportunity to get real-life experience working with SAIL Databank. Hopefully, it has given them a real taste of working as a data science researcher and we wish them luck with whatever they do next – hopefully we will see some of them develop their careers in the diverse areas of research that use this vast repository of data. Thanks to the SAIL Databank team for creating this opportunity for our students and to the SAIL Databank Consumer Panel for supporting the students in developing their knowledge and expertise especially within public and patient engagement.”