Over the summer of 2021, Holly took part in a physics summer internship at the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre, University of Nottingham, alongside the centre manager. The goal of Holly’s project was to undertake tasks typical to the role of a clinical scientist in the NHS, while gaining an idea of what it is like to work as a medical physicist.
The Big Picture
Part of Holly’s tasks was to automate the quality assurance analysis (QA) that is performed on the MRI scanners. Holly wrote a programme, with the help of her supervisor, that would retrieve files from the scanner automatically and run a code that would plot the results and identify potential outliers or issues. She also conducted an internal audit in line with the guidelines of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
“MHRA guidelines are basically a bible on how to run an MRI centre. I had already learnt a lot about the physics of MRI in my academic studies, so this gave me a great understanding of the practical applications and what it is like to work with a scanner”.
Holly spent a significant amount of time shadowing one of the SPMIC’s technical officers helping him perform the QA processes. This ranged from loading in phantoms and running the tests to look into potential issues on the scanner. As part of this, Holly wrote a short report on what she identified as a potential scanner issue. She met with the SPMIC’s contact at Philips to discuss her findings.
“The role was very independent which was great. I had regular meetings with my supervisor to discuss progress and ask any questions about what I was doing but planning my day to day was down to me. This meant I could reach out to a few of the researchers in the building and arrange to watch their scans and learn about what projects they were working on. I also got to partake in research as a research subject, having around six MRI scans in my time there. Planning my own time was a great exercise in time management and a good insight into real working life.”
The Physics Connection
“The coding skills I had learnt as part of my degree were hugely useful to my project because a big part of what I was doing was writing programmes. Although I had never written an audit report before, the skills I had learnt regarding scientific writing were extremely helpful. This did require a lot of independent research, however, in how to conduct an audit, interview people and review documents. In addition, a module I had taken in Functional Medical Imaging was extremely useful and helped me in diagnosing the potential scanner issue as I had some knowledge of how the scanner worked.“
Holly also comments that the whole process of the internship has grown her confidence in a lot of the practical elements of the workplace such as sending professional emails and booking meetings. She has found these skills helpful this year when she was searching for PhD positions or jobs to undertake when she finished university. Employers Holly has spoken to have been particularly keen on the audit report that she produced, as it gives a real insight into how businesses are run and shows commercial awareness.
As part of the internship, Holly received “Green Badge” training. This is safety training that allows you to move freely around the MRI centre and access most areas that are restricted to unauthorised staff. She also completed the “Good Clinical Practice” certification, a course required for working in medical research. This provided her with knowledge about ethical approval and ethics committees, informed consent, and the different roles in a clinical research team.
Holly identified that the main thing she learnt about work is the amount of self-management that is involved. She says that she was given tasks and a time frame and it was down to her to research how to complete the tasks and set weekly goals for her own progress. Before taking part in the internship, she struggled with getting too caught up in the small details of a project and losing sight of the bigger picture. In a real working environment, deadlines are often much tighter than university deadlines, so there wasn’t time to do that. She learnt it’s important to ask for help when you need it and not waste time being stuck on the same problem.
“If you’re being asked to do something you’ve never done before, it’s normal and not at all embarrassing to need a bit of help and people are generally always happy to point you in the right direction. I found that colleagues were extremely helpful and positive and built some great professional relationships with people who will be great contacts to have in the future.“
Holly confirms that the internship helped her to improve her working habits and enhanced her confidence.
“It really built my confidence, although if I was going to do anything differently it would be to reach out to more people in the centre and put myself out there even more. There were researchers who I’d have loved to go and meet but I thought they might be too busy but any researchers I did meet were keen to chat, so I should have just gone for it. I think my main take home messages from this experience would be to ask for help when I need it and just put myself out there as much as possible. These are the kinds of qualities important in any career and I think they will help me going forward.“
“I enjoyed learning about clinical research practices so much that the internship made me decide to pursue a PhD in an area of medical imaging research. Before, I had just wanted to enter the NHS STP straight after graduation. I think the self-management and time keeping skills I have learnt will be especially useful for any future career path. The experience has solidified that I want to work in an area of medical physics, whether that be through the STP or something else.“