My experience taking part in a SPIN internship by Rachel Cooper

Rachel Cooper

I’m Rachel, an Applied Linguistics and English Language student. In my second year I had the opportunity to take part in a Swansea University Paid Internship (SPIN). My particular internship was based at the Centre for Ageing & Dementia Research (CADR), which is a chapter of the Centre for Innovative Ageing at Swansea University. My internship, which was coordinated and supervised by Dr. Federica Barbieri (Applied Linguistics), involved working on a science popularisation project. One of CADR’s aims is to disseminate research on ageing and dementia to the general public.

What was the project?

The project I was involved in required me to write lay summaries of published research studies, using non-technical language, in order to make them accessible to the general public. The summaries followed the Open Accessible Summaries In Language Studies (OASIS) framework, which breaks down the content of each article into sections so that the information is easier to understand. The main sections of a summary following OASIS are: ‘What this was about and why it is important’, ‘What the researchers did’, ‘What the researchers found’, and ‘Things to consider’.

What were the summaries like?

The summaries were expected to be 700-800 words: an appropriate length to give enough detail, but not too long. Here is an example of a summary of a quantitative study. This study investigates whether being bilingual (the ability to speak two languages fluently) helps delay the start of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). The study compared monolinguals and bilinguals with mild AD on a set of tests to see which group performed better.

Here is a summary of a qualitative study. This study involves people with suspected undiagnosed dementia and their relatives. The participants were interviewed to find out more about the circumstances of those living with dementia symptoms and gather data on the strategies participants used to manage cognitive difficulties.

The summarising process

Let’s take a closer look at the process of summarising the content. First, I came up with a simplified title for the summary. Next, as you can see in the first section (‘what the research is about’), I discussed the research idea and its importance (Image 1).

Image 1

Then, I summarised the Methods section (which includes sub-sections on ‘design’, ‘ethics’, ‘procedure’, ‘data analysis’) in three short paragraphs, in the section ‘what the researchers did’ (Image 2).

Image 2

In Image 3 you can see an extract from the original study for comparison:

Image 3

The feedback process

I received structured feedback on the first few summaries and then later, as needed. In addition, each summary was sent to one of the authors of the study so they could check that the research had been accurately summarised. The summaries were then translated into Welsh and finally published on the CADR website, where they are now accessible to the general public.

Work organization and challenges

My SPIN went from March to June, and in total I summarised 13 articles. The topics varied from ageing and exercise, to Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia diagnoses. All summaries are now available in the ‘publications’ section of the CADR website.

The working hours were flexible, and required setting aside time each week, alongside uni work. The placement itself was all done remotely from home, which allowed me to set aside my own time to work on the summaries. Communication with CADR (and my supervisor) was less immediate as any queries were followed up via email, but they were always helpful and quick to reply.

There were of course also some challenges that occurred during my placement. Fitting work around my assignment deadlines was sometimes difficult. Initially, I found the articles hard to simplify into summaries, but by the time I had done a few, this became easier and I became faster at completing them. I would also say that some articles were about more complex topics than others, though I did learn more about research in areas such as bilingualism and its involvement in Alzheimer’s Disease, the effects of exercise, and stages of rehabilitation after stroke.

What skills did I use and develop through the SPIN?

The skills the SPIN required were understanding and breaking down complex methods and technical language, attention to detail, time-management, and working independently, among others. The skills I developed during the placement included working in a professional environment, explaining empirical research in simpler terms, balancing an internship along with uni work, and editing my work in line with feedback. The most useful skill from this internship that I can apply to my own work is fully breaking down and understanding complex research studies, including methods and quantitative results, interpreting tables and figures and the implications of findings. I think these will be extremely beneficial for my own academic writing, and any post graduate studies I might pursue.

It feels rewarding to see that my summaries are available for the public to read on the CADR website, and that they might help them understand the particular research surrounding ageing and dementia, for themselves or those around them. Overall, I enjoyed this opportunity, and would recommend a SPIN placement to any students looking to broaden their subject knowledge and improve their understanding of empirical research, whilst earning some money.