Internship at the HTO research group: Reflections and the impact

Christmas tree in Uppsala

Two years ago I have spent three winter months in Sweden, on an internship at Health, Technology & Organisation (HTO) research group under the supervision of prof. Åsa Cajander.

As everything is interconnected in the academic (not only) world, I was (thankfully) introduced to Åsa by Jan Gulliksen after the first week of the EIT Health 2017 summer school in Dublin and met her on the second week of it in Uppsala. It is funny to write about it now working as a postdoc at the Health Technology Design research group at Trinity College Dublin, as it seems like my academic lifecycle of three years has completed where it started. Now, more than ever, I think about my time in Uppsala and I see how much it affected my life and career. 

Internship in Uppsala was my first academic visiting period and I did not have many expectations, as it was all very new to me. In Trento, where I did my PhD, I was working in the Social Informatics research group, an interdisciplinary team that was spanning across human-computer interaction and software engineering. While digital health was still a topic that was present in our research (in a minor degree though), it was exciting to learn from the e-Health experts, as I have joined the work on the DOME project. I was part of the team that was performing an analysis of a national survey on the Swedish personal health records system “Journalen”. This collaboration resulted in a joint submission . While the paper was submitted one year ago but we are still waiting for the final reviews (sigh!), for me this work played a major role and led to the following changes in my life. 

1. New opportunities. Thanks to the experience working on the security and privacy concerns patients have regarding disclosure of their private information and the opportunity to work with and learn from prof. Rose Mharie Åhlfeldt, I later joined Berkeley Laboratory for Usable and Experimental Security (BLUES) on another (sunnier) Internship in Berkeley. I could say that the skills I developed thanks to those experiences then ultimately led me to apply for an ALECS Marie Skłodowska-Curie postdoc at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.

2. Cultural exchange. During my Internship, I had a chance to learn from the work style of the HTO research group. I noticed some interesting work practices that I am trying to replicate in my work and collaborations. For instance, I appreciate the way Åsa and her colleagues make their work transparent to the public. For instance, they actively participate in the interviews and write in their blog, which inspired me to start my academic blog as well. Another good practice I like to distribute is to share and discuss not only success stories but also things that did not go as planned (or “unsuccessstories”), which encourages brainstorming of the alternative action strategies but also makes already too competitive and accomplishment-driven academic world healthier and more mindful.

3. Supervision and communication inspiration. Another valuable lesson I have learnt during my time in Sweden is the “normality” of discussing things that come up in academic work, like authorship, distribution of workload, and the importance of the time-off. While it is unfortunately common to work over the weekends and during holidays for academics, and we all do in some way or another, Åsa taught me that it can be completely normal not work more than full time. In the HTO group time off work is encouraged and its importance is emphasised. I realised that that is the environment I would like to promote throughout my work as well. 

Sometimes seemingly random or spontaneous decisions might lead to great changes and my work at HTO group (and beyond) in Sweden was exactly that case. It is also a real-life example I provide to PhD and Master students to encourage them to “go out there” and create new research collaborations, which luckily worked out amazingly in my case. 

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