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Ponni Balasundaram is a final stage Ph.D. student at the UCL Royal Free Hospital Institute for Liver and Digestive Health. She shares her reflections on her experience participating in the Social Hackathon featuring community organization Round the Blend.

Ponni and Round the Blend leaders working together at the Social Hackathon
Can you tell me about your program?

I'm in the final stages of my Ph.D. and I’m based at the Royal free hospital at the Institute of Digestive Health. My Ph.D. project is based on the early detection of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors so I'm working on a blood biomarker test and algorithm to help diagnose patients with this condition.

Can you tell me a little bit about why you decided to participate in the Social Hackathon?

I've always been interested in social enterprise in particular and I felt that it was just a great opportunity to give up some of my time to help an organization with some of the skills that I've obtained from my Ph.D. experience and to provide them with an insight in terms of looking at things happen, a different angle to what they might have sort of been considering previously.

Can you talk about the specific hack that you worked on.

We were divided up into two teams. Our team was looking at evaluating how we could get feedback from people who are attending the future Community Cafe and how this could be used for further fundraising as well. So sort of looking at quantitative data analysis, what sorts of things would be required for funding, and the ways in which this could be obtained in a user friendly easier way. So we discussed in the group, I was thinking about how we could sort of get feedback from the customers, who were coming to the Community Café. It would provide a way in which the data could be obtained in an easier sort of way. One thing we did discuss was about how this project was about bringing the older generation and the younger generation together and the older generation aren't necessarily the most technical savvy so it was how you could sort of overcome that barrier.

Can you talk about how the research skills that you use for your Ph.D. benefited your work on the hack?

I think as a PhD researcher you sort of overtime you develop an analytical mindset and you tend to see things and sort of a critical way. I think you develop that, as you go through your Ph.D. and sort of thinking outside the box or sort of a different way of thinking. Perhaps because obviously doing a Ph.D. you overcome problems and barriers over time and I think what essential for the Social Hackathon as well. It was similar in that respect, where you've got it properly presented with a problem, and you need to think in a way that you can try and get around that. Also, the data analytic side of things as a Ph.D. researcher you develop those sorts of skills which helped you in understanding the quality quantitative and qualitative things such as interviews or other things that you need, which was sort of applicable to to this sort of work as well. I think there was a lot of overlap.

What was it like working with the Community organization?

It was actually fantastic. Initially, we had a presentation from the actual organization themselves and they gave us an overview of their purpose and why they felt that this was particularly important and the benefits that this could have for the for the wider community. I found that it was really great to have that insight initially because it helped I think, for me, especially just to sort of understand what the organization we're looking for in terms of our input for the day; it set the scene. And also, it was great because throughout the day they obviously came and they were discussing what we were having in terms of ideas. Having that sort of constant interaction throughout the day was nice. We were able to sort of learn more about what they're what they're planning to do for the future as well, so it was exciting. We felt like we were part of it as well in a small way.

Can you tell me just about kind of what your some of your favorite things about it were, or like your main takeaways?

Firstly, I think, just learning about the different social enterprises and the Community Café. Learning about what their aim was, because there are lots of Community Cafes, but their specific mission to try and bring people together in terms of the focus of the elderly and the young people. So learning about what their what their aim, plus I think sort of getting a greater insight into sort of their vision, and that was something which I definitely found really interesting. Also, I think, for me personally just sort of applying like I said before, the research skills that I had obtained over time in a completely different context, but in many ways sort of similar; in that you're trying to solve a problem using your critical thinking skills your analytical skills; and sort of just trying to apply that in a in a different way. I felt that that was entirely possible by attending this session. It was great to see how this can be applied in a in a different way and so, for me, that was something which I was really grateful for.

Any advice for students or other organizations who might want to participate in social hackathons in the future?

I would say, go for it because it's a great day it's a completely different sort of way to how you use your research skills. Its in a different context, so to speak, so I think it's really it's really useful for you and also, if you want to have a career path beyond lab-based or bench work it's great experience for sort of consultancy roles, or for other sort of public facing roles, where, perhaps you could use your research analytical scientific skills in a different way. So its great day, and I really recommend people to take part in the Social Hackathons in the future as well.