Anna Williams: My experience as a GCHU Summer Intern

BA Geography student Anna Williams joined the GCHU on a four-week Summer Internship where she took on the role of Student Research Associate.

In this blog, Anna summarises her experiences of working in the GCHU research team and her advice for any students considering applying for future placement opportunties.

Anna Williams

GCHU Student Research Associate and BA Geography student, University of Oxford

Email: [email protected]

I joined the GCHU interning as a ‘Student Research Associate’ for four weeks over Summer 2023. As an undergraduate geography student at the end of my second year, I had begun to specialise in my degree and knew where my interests lay (cities, governance, public health and sustainable development) but was only beginning to identify potential options for after my studies. On applying for the internship, I knew I was interested in the work of the GCHU and shared many of their principles, but felt my application was a somewhat shot in the dark given my relative lack of qualifications or experience. In hindsight the role came at the perfect time and has undoubtedly supplied me confidence and enthusiasm as I head into my final year.

Highlights from the internship were multiple. In my second week at the center, we travelled to the Prince’s Foundation in London where we were privileged to discuss the team’s current principles and projects, as well as establish exciting avenues for further research collaboration. After a busy morning of conversations, we visited the Barbican Center on recommendation of colleagues at the Foundation, a fascinating case study of theories discussed just hours before. The third week involved a conference (‘Cycle County, Active County’) of stakeholders in British active mobility. Alongside attending sessions and running comms from the event, we were able to meet with people from a great diversity of professional backgrounds including politicians, council workers, campaigners, engineers and businesspeople. I found approaching issues with those with similar interests, but entirely different professional perspectives, to be deeply rewarding, especially after spending two years in somewhat of an academic bubble. The walking tour pictured was a moment of particular interaction and was valuable in supporting these interdisciplinary conversations. Finally, in our fourth week, we were fortunate to be invited to The Prince’s Foundation in Ayrshire, Scotland. Here we were tasked with carrying out a preliminary exploration of the Foundation’s Health and Wellbeing Center. Through various meetings and interviews as well as participation in their program, we were able work with the team to identify challenges they faced and future GCHU research that would help tackle them. Not only were our hosts exceptionally generous, but they imbued us with a real sense of joy. Their work is full of heart and humanity and was a privilege to be a part of.

Whilst the above has listed exceptional opportunities provided to us, it’s worth noting that the everyday routine of the internship, having lunch with the team, working on projects and sharing common interests was just as rewarding.

This role has allowed me significant opportunity for growth. Primarily it’s enabled a much clearer understanding of the process of research, from proposal to publication, and the role of researchers in public health and society more generally. Time at GCHU has encouraged me to consider the value of good research for communities, and the factors that determine this relationship for it to flourish. Further it’s proven the position of research as a small but important cog in a much larger societal machine, as research findings most often need to be taken up by those further downstream (councils, building developers etc.) to have any real impact. More personally I’ve developed my professional confidence by building skills, which were both specific, such as graphic design on Canva or producing a scoping review, and soft, such as networking, engaging in meetings and working to a brief. Each of these lay out of my comfort zone before the placement but have since been challenged and furthered.

My advice to those applying to or beginning an internship at the GCHU would be to remain confident of your ability and to approach the whole experience with an open mind. It’s easy to feel out of your depth as an intern as you’re likely to always be the most junior person in the room. However, don’t let fear of inexperience put you off either applying or making the most of the role. In many ways a lack of professional experience is valuable, you’ll offer a fresh perspective and, depending on your level of study, most likely be more of a ‘generalist’ than some of your co-workers. I’d also recommend having confidence in the skills you have. Much of this internship was an extension or reimagining of skills already established in any undergraduate degree (at its most simplistic: reading and writing). Most of what you’ll be asked to do, will turn out to feel far more familiar than you might expect, which I certainly found reassuring. Further, the culture of the GCHU is dynamic, meaning the scope of its work and the variety of tasks available to you are broad. Given this culture I’d encourage you to follow your own interests in both your application and your internship, just making sure to consider its links to the GCHU. Your knowledge will no doubt be embraced by the team and will be one of multiple areas of focus during your time here.

My final piece of advice would be to reapply if you’re not offered a place first time. I was rejected from a micro-internship with GCHU the winter before and so pretty much wrote myself off from succeeding with this one. Despite a lack of confidence and a tinge of embarrassment, I tried again and am so grateful I did. It’s been a hugely rewarding experience, with the opportunity to work alongside wonderful people towards a common goal. All in all, it’s left me feeling a little more confident about the future of the planet and excited to see what my role in it might be.