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Former Bristol Health Partners intern Megan Davies reflects on her unconventional journey into academia

25 August 2020

Megan completed an internship with Bristol Health Partners in 2018 and has since grown her interest in health inequalities research. She now works as a postdoctoral researcher at Aarhus University looking at mental health and hospital/prescription data across Denmark.

Although I recently finished my PhD and started a postdoc, I have had a slightly unconventional route into academia. I left school at 16 with average GCSEs and no idea of what I wanted to do, and career sessions at school only fleetingly mentioned university as an option. After a one-year Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) qualification alongside working at a pharmacy, I enrolled onto an NVQ beauty therapy course and afterwards started working in a department store. Realising I wanted something more challenging, I developed an interest in psychology after some research and chats with a local career advice centre and was accepted onto a one-year Access to Higher Education course studying humanities subjects. I was over the moon to get into Liverpool University to study Psychology as I was initially told I was unlikely to get in as their grade requirements for an access course were particularly high. My first real glimpse of life as an academic was during a two-week placement at the end of my first year with a health psychology lecturer, who I then started regularly working with and was awarded funding for a summer research project.

From here I developed an interest in health inequalities, particularly in marginalised populations, and after spending a semester in Italy and loving living abroad, I applied to do a masters at Maastricht University studying Global Health. This was an incredible experience, and I was fortunate to spend some time living in India working with local charities aiming to improve health and social outcomes for the local population. I then went and did my master’s thesis in Prague looking at HIV policies and prevention efforts, which are purely qualitative. Despite my mainly qualitative background, I was always fascinated by (and done pretty well in) quantitative analysis and epidemiology modules in my masters and was determined to get out of my comfort zone and do a quantitative PhD. I was delighted (although had major imposter syndrome) to be accepted onto an Advanced Quantitative Methods funded PhD at Southampton University looking at smoking inequalities between lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) populations across Great Britain.

During my PhD I developed an interest in applied research and the way it can impact policy and was really keen to do an internship with a local organisation. I contacted Bristol Health Partners (BHP) who were happy to take me on and I began working mainly with the Drug and Alcohol Health Integration Team (HIT), writing a policy brief and literature review on projects they were hoping to start. I was thrilled to get experience working with non-academic partners and develop an understanding of the collaboration between Bristol City Council, the universities and local hospitals. My internship was a brilliant experience, enabling me to work on applied topics and understand how local research is needed to improve health inequalities and outcomes. I also worked on a project about preventing initiation of smoking and other health risk behaviours in schools, which allowed me to consider in my own research how smoking initiation could be prevented in LGB youths in schools when reflecting on my findings and suggestions for future research. My time at BHP was imperative to my development as an academic and has influenced how I think of research and the ways it can have impact in society.

If someone had told me 10 years ago where I would be today I wouldn’t have believed them. I’m glad to have had an unusual path into academia as it’s made me so appreciative of where I am now and reminded me to take every opportunity possible, from studying abroad and attending conferences, to internships and making connections wherever possible. I hope my future career path in health geography will feature many more collaborations and experiences.

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