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An Intern Reports: Thomas Bray

In the rush to finish the thesis, I had paid little attention as to how I might fill the awkward period between submission and the viva. Partially as a result of my research into the history of social work and welfare, I knew that I was interested in the interface between policy and the public, and that I was interested in how research could inform social policy. I even entertained the possibility that my doctoral research might enable me to get involved in something along those lines, so when I heard about the possibility of working with Health Exchange, I was very excited.

Such excitement was, however, mixed with a fair dose of nerves. I had engaged with social workers as part of my research, but they were actively interested in their profession’s past. How, I wondered, might an ambitious and forward-looking social enterprise like Health Exchange react to an historian? I was very fortunate, therefore, to be able to meet with Jennifer Jones-Rigby, the Assistant Director, and discuss my possible role. This helped me to realise that it was not so much my specialist knowledge as the skills which I had developed over the course of the PhD which were to prove useful. An ability to undertake research and critically consider information and ideas will always be welcome in any setting.

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Since beginning my internship on 5th October, I have been focusing on organising an event around Health Exchange’s early intervention work with diabetes and pre-diabetes. This has meant getting to grips very quickly with the current thinking around this condition, especially Type 2 diabetes, and with the organisation of healthcare in and around Birmingham. I have also, however, had the opportunity to learn about some of the other aspects of the day-to-day running of Health Exchange, such as promoting and delivering health programmes. Just talking to people about their particular roles and the accompanying challenges has proved informative, and I have found that many relish the opportunity to discuss their work.

At the same time, many of my new colleagues at Health Exchange have been very interested in my own background and my own plans for the future. I am by far the newest member of the team, so they are always curious as to my impressions of the organisation. The nature of the internship means that I have plenty of opportunity to manage my own time and follow up themes which particularly interest me.

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Another benefit, and one which was quite a surprise to me, is that the internship has given me a notable boost of energy and enthusiasm. By the end of the PhD, I was feeling very ready to move on, but whilst working at Health Exchange, I soon realised during my days off that I was actually quite eager to start thinking about further research. I set myself a target of completing a journal article for the beginning of November, and that was a really useful exercise in keeping my historical faculties ticking over. I was very worried that I might just crash after submitting, but in fact, I’m really excited about the viva and whichever challenges might come next.

In the meantime, the event, entitled ‘A Conversation About Diabetes’, is beginning to take shape, and each week seems to throw up new opportunities. I think the main piece of advice I would offer to anyone undertaking an internship is to throw yourself into it, to take advantage of all the skills and knowledge on offer. I hope that Health Exchange has benefitted from my contribution, but I know that I have gained already a lot of experience and confidence from being here. If you have any questions, either about the internship or the event, please do get in touch. Hopefully my internship is the beginning of a productive relationship between Health Exchange and the CHM!

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