Recently, and by that I mean a few weeks ago (and as such this blog post is long overdue) I completed my internship at the Transport Systems Catapult. Unlike Shalaka’s internship mine went on a slightly different route. But I suppose I should start with the beginning…
By being a part of the 2013 cohort I do not have an industry partner, therefore I had to apply and be interviewed for the position. The entire process was simple and with the help received from IMPETUS and more specifically from Nancy Hughes (Thank you Nancy!) I was soon being interviewed by Mark Westwood and Eric Chan from the TSC on my intentions for the internship and my plans for successfully conducting it.
Unlike some other interns, I had the freedom of proposing my own activity / theme of research and as such I chose something that I was really curious about as well as something that would help me develop additional skills.
After long considerations we decided that the best approach would be to split my internship in two blocks in order to have access and be a part of more trials. For this reason I had to move to Milton Keynes for a long period of time.
Being a part of Horizon CDT means always being surrounded by people doing different types of ethnography and ethnomethodologically informed ethnography (being Andreas‘ flatmate for more than a year as well as very good friends with Panos, made me, against my wishes, a part of numerous and very long conversations about it), but at the same time it presented me with a good chance and some understanding of the benefits (and pitfalls) of conducting observational studies in real life situations. Therefore, my proposed internship project involved the observations of pedestrian interactions with the automated pods that were/are trialled in Milton Keynes.
Despite my conversational knowledge about observational studies, prior to arriving in Milton Keynes I had to read a few books and research articles on how to successfully conduct ethnography “in the wild”, and what were the best ways of putting it into practice.
As mentioned above, my internship was different to Shalaka’s since it was split into two blocks. I also had more freedom, from a schedule point of view, since my work involved mostly going outside and observing the normal interactions of pedestrians along the testing route for the automated vehicles. This was done at different times of the day in different locations, and so involved a lot of walking, which at least benefited my general health/shape.
When weather allowed for it, I was accompanying the automated pods along the trial route in my double role of test marshal and researcher/observer/stare-at-every-passer-by. During the tests I was trying to interact with as many pedestrians as possible and inquire about their levels of trust in the technology, their acceptance and general opinions (when not avoiding the cameras of those that were trying to snapchat for as long as possible the passing by pod).
For each of the internship blocks I had the support of two different pairs of mentors (Mark Westwood and Eric Chan for block one and Alan Nettleton and Dave Barnett for the second block), and besides the regular contact with them I have managed to meet a few very interesting people and even make some friends.
One of the benefits of conducting my internship in two blocks almost a year apart was that it allowed me to attend both Imagine Festivals and Conferences (2016 and 2017), the initial one just presenting the work that UoN and IMPETUS are doing in the area of Intelligent Mobility, while the second attendance allowed me to have one of my own flyers presenting my work for the TSC.
Another beneficial “side effect” of having done the internship in two blocks is the fact that I managed to secure a placement with UNIVANCE (in the in-between break), looking into more technical and business aspects of automated vehicles.
As a short conclusion, I would recommend for anyone to do an internship, as in my case it allowed me to apply and learn/put in practice a new research method, and gave me the chance of experiencing first hand a non-academic work environment as well as having the immense benefit of taking me out, for a period of time, from the PhD environment and the “I-should-be working” recurrent thoughts (regardless of day and time).