In our latest PenARC blog new HSMA tutor, Sammi Rosser, tells us about her path into research and why she is excited about starting her new role!
Hello Sammi, welcome to PenARC! Tell us, what has your journey into research been?
My undergraduate degree was in biology, and after a rather frustrating project involving weeks of surveying wildflowers in a field while alternating between getting sunburnt and getting drenched, I had concluded that research wasn’t for me. Instead, I spent five years working at an educational technology startup, who turned out were using the R programming language to do incredible things.
I’d been taught basic R during my undergraduate course to simulate the population dynamics of side-blotched lizards, and while I thought it was interesting, I had no idea that R was used outside of academia! But here was a company who were passionate about data-driven decision making and using data to directly improve lives. I picked up R and Python again in my spare time, working through many online courses, and I was lucky to be able to use the skills I developed to create tools to help in my job – putting these skills into practice!
During the Covid pandemic I returned to study as part of the first cohort of the MSc in Health Data Science at the University of Exeter. When we reached the module on operational research techniques, taught by the PenCHORD team, I was truly hooked.
From then on, PenCHORD and I kept crossing paths. I was supervised by PenCHORD Honorary Research Fellow, Dr Sean Manzi, for my MSc project on adapting an Excel-based demand and capacity urgent care model into a web-based format. After this I joined Devon Partnership Trust – a mental health, learning disability and neurodiversity trust – as a Senior Data Analyst. A year into that role, the opportunity came up to join PenCHORD on a one-year secondment to work on urgent and emergency care dashboards for the trust, remaining fully embedded in the trust for the duration.
What did you learn on your secondment with PenCHORD?
I spent a lot of time learning the importance of good stakeholder engagement, user interface design, data visualisations that tell a clear story in an impactful way, and finding a balance between developing what users want while also showing them the possibilities they don’t necessarily know exist.
I was fortunate enough to be able to spend the time to really understand the pressures on the trust and the motivators for the project. Being part of the trust meant I built good relationships with people who could tell me what the problems on the ground were, and I was given enough freedom to come back with ideas about how the solutions could be developed – using tools and techniques they’d not come across before. I was also tasked with putting together recommendations around projects using machine learning or operational research techniques that they may wish to explore in the coming years.
PenCHORD’s expertise was invaluable – they understand the challenges and nuances of translating research into practice, and they were always there to advise on how to apply different techniques and research methodologies to make sure we achieved our goal.
Shane Coe, Senior Business Intelligence Manager – One Devon, said:
“The work I’ve seen with PenCHORD has blown me away at how they’ve grasped a complex arena, engaged with operational end-users and developed visualisations of data that are what everyone didn’t know they needed and didn’t think was possible. It didn’t need complex Machine Learning / AI or algorithms, but shows that there is a lot of value in how we use basic, routinely captured data and turn it into the intelligence that people can easily recognise.”
What are you most excited about in your new role?
I’m really looking forward to meeting the interesting and passionate people from so many different organisations who make up our current HSMA community!
I love coming up with inventive ways to teach complex concepts – and there will certainly be lots of opportunities to do that on the course! Data science is continuously evolving so there will never be a shortage of new content for us to develop. I adore coding, so being in a team who are passionate about writing good, open code and using free and open-source software is such a great thing. They have so much experience and are so generous with sharing their knowledge – I know they’ll really help me to grow as a researcher and teacher.
When you’re not teaching on the HSMA programme where would we find you?
Outside of work, I’m spending some time improving a few custom PowerBI visuals that I developed in my last role – I think bringing the power of R into PowerBI can be a great way to get trusts interested in the potential of open source languages and start them on a path of investing in training and infrastructure once they realise the potential of R and Python and the limitations of the alternatives. You can find my PowerBI implementations of the NHS-R plot the dots package, clients service use timeline visualisations (also known as Theographs), and short-term forecasts (‘nowcasts’) on my Github page. Visit Sammi’s Github page here.
When I’m not coding, quite often I’ll be out in a forest or on a lake, river or the sea! I’m a keen downhill mountain biker, but I’ve recently become enamoured with the leisurely pace of stand-up paddle boarding too – we’re very lucky to have so many beautiful lakes and rivers in Devon, as well as the stunning coast! But when I’m not doing either of the above, you’ll probably find me playing the latest games on a PC or lost somewhere in virtual reality.
Interested in the HSMA programme?
Join our Virtual Open Day on 13th December, 09:00-16:30. Hear more about the programme and speak with the HSMA trainers and current and past participants about their projects and experience. In addition, for those considering applying to the next round of the programme, more information about the programme and the application process will be provided, in addition to a series of workshops spread across the day offering mini “tasters” of HSMA training content and showcasing of the research work of the PenCHORD team.
Applications will be launched following the Open Day. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to receive an application pack.