My Charity Insights internship is at The Brilliant Club – a charity that aims to increase the number of students from under-represented backgrounds at highly-selective universities in the United Kingdom. The Brilliant Club office is located in the Kensington Centre on Hammersmith road, next to Kensington Olympia. The entire London branch of the organisation is housed in a large open-space office which is shared together with Future First and has a seating capacity of approximately 100 people. My motivation to undertake a placement at this organisation stemmed from my previous experience of working for People In Need – a Czech charity focused on educating children from excluded Roma communities in the Czech Republic, and from my long-held belief that is it through education that growing world inequality should be tackled.
My four-week internship at the Brilliant Club was, in broad terms, to consist of helping the organisation run the so-called Nuffield Research Placements scheme and simultaneously complete a related research project. The Nuffield Research Placement scheme is a four to six-week summer programme, where 16-17-year-old students are placed across research institutions in London. Under the supervision of a researcher (called the ‘project provider’), they complete an individual research project in the provider’s area of science. It is an opportunity for them to gain first-hand experience of what working in a research environment is really like just before applying to university. The scheme is funded by the Nuffield Foundation (hence called the ‘Nuffield Research Placements’) but it is contracted to and run by The Brilliant Club in Greater London & Surrey. On this scheme, The Brilliant Club mainly supports students from low income backgrounds or with no family history of higher education as a part of their mission to widen university access.
My individual project at The Brilliant Club would also revolve around the Nuffield Research Placements scheme. The initial idea was that the goal of the project would be to find out how the proposition to supervise a secondary-school student can be made more attractive to the researcher. Unlike other programmes run by the organisation, where tutors are paid, there is no financial support offered to project providers on this programme. As a result, a majority of researchers (over 90%) contacted to host a student decline the opportunity, and each year, there are students enrolled in the programme for whom a placement cannot be provided. My role would be to interview current project providers, attempt to identify key motivational factors and subsequently draw conclusions about how new researchers could be attracted to take part in the scheme.
My time at The Brilliant Club, that has now come to a conclusion, can be broken down into three distinct phases and I have dedicated a blog post to each of these. The first phase, in which I will talk in more detail in this blog post, essentially stretched over the period of the first two weeks. The subsequent two were a week long each.
My first day at the organisation started off with induction formalities. I received a laptop, a company e-mail address, access to the company’s shared file database, a card to access the office, and was also shown how to evacuate the building in case of an emergency. Throughout the day, I was introduced by various members of staff in one-on-one presentations to all the programmes run by the organisation (The Scholar’s Programme, Researchers In Schools etc.). Mainly, however, I was briefed by my supervisor where things currently stand with regards to the Nuffield Research Placement scheme and what work she would like me to complete. I was told that a certain number of students have been accepted to participate in the scheme based on their academic credentials (I cannot disclose exact numbers due to the issues of confidentiality) but that The Brilliant Club has not yet managed to secure placements for all of them, i.e. that there simply are not enough project providers. Over the following two weeks, my task would be to compile contact information of researchers in universities, research institutes, small business etc. who could potentially host a student. I would then send each and every one of them a so-called ‘cold-contact’ e-mail with main information about the programme and ask them whether they would be interested in hosting a student. This was a rather dull and repetitive task but something that had to be done and there was no other way around it. My other task, was to read through and summarise a survey titled the ‘2016 London Provider Feedback Survey’. This survey was completed by previous year’s project providers and detailed their experiences of hosting a Nuffield student. The work on this would become more intense in the 3rd and 4th weeks of my time at The Brilliant Club and will be described in more detail in future blog posts.
Throughout the first two weeks, I also worked on my project. Coming from an engineering background, I had no prior knowledge of how to conduct a research interview – a social science discipline. I consulted a paper from ‘The National Centre for Research Methods’ titled ‘How many qualitative interviews is enough?’ to give me an idea of the scope of the task I had set myself. After having read through some more material about how to conduct research interviews, I began drafting a number of documents: i) a description of my research to clearly articulate its purpose and lay out what information is to be gathered from the interviewees, ii) a rough sequence of questions to be asked, iii) a draft message to be sent to the project provider to explain what the research is and why their input is essential. After two weeks of preparation, all I was waiting for, and hoped this would be a formality, was an approval from the Nuffield Foundation that I can start conducting the interviews.