In the summer of 2014, I was offered an internship by the Anthropology department to spend four weeks working in the Parent-Infant Sleep Lab. The lab is headed up by Prof Helen Ball and Dr Charlotte Russell, who are experts in their fields no less! They are not only heading up the Sleep Lab but are also co-ordinators of Infant Sleep Information Source (ISIS), an online project making infant sleep research accessible to health professionals and parents. My role whilst I was there was to help code video data for an on-going study called the Bedside Crib Project and to come up with a ‘genius idea’ to increase recruitment of potential participants.
Before my internship started I met with Dawn Mee, the sleep lab technician at the time, to get to grips with the coding programme I would be using. It sounds simple enough watch a video of mothers and their babies interacting and code what they do. Needless to say I was very nervous as this was someone else’s data that they had worked hard to collect and I didn’t want to muck up the coding which could potentially affect their study’s outcomes. Luckily, I got to practice on older data and not the real thing. By the end of the session I felt really confident that I could code some data without mucking up the study. Dawn even made me a step-by-step guide in case I forgot how to turn the computer on!
So when I arrived on my first day, super excited, I thought it would go off without a hitch. Unfortunately the pause button on the coding programme wasn’t working… which meant every time I paused the video to code an action, I would have to rewind back to the BEGINNING of the video and watch it all again. But after looking into all the options along the menu bar of this alien programme, I found the playback control and could now ‘pause’ the video and play it again! Coding could now commence without any more delays.
My other project was to find a ‘genius idea’, as Charlotte said, for increasing recruitment of participants for Bedside Crib Project. So after discussing several ways to improve recruitment with Charlotte and Helen, we decided to make a monthly newsletter to send to local mother and baby groups. I now had the enormous task of trawling the internet and various mother/baby websites looking for local groups and contact details. Many of these I could send an email to and some I had to call, but in the end I had accumulated the contact details for forty-three mother-baby groups!
After gathering all this information and sending individualised emails to each group, we finally had a list of groups which were interested in receiving a newsletter! The next task was to create a simple but sophisticated looking newsletter. Easy… ish… what was challenging was to condense research papers to one or two lines written in an informal tone, a difficult task considering I worked so hard in previous years at university to write my assignments in an academic tone. But by the end of my internship I had sent out the first Baby Sleep Lab newsletter!
By the end of my four weeks I could now successfully code video data on a computer programme I had only heard of a couple of weeks beforehand, refined my researching techniques and helped the Sleep Lab into improving recruitment of mothers and babies to participate in on-going studies. Studies which will further improve our knowledge about night-time caregiving and infant sleep behaviour.
Not only did I get to experience working in fully-operating Lab but contribute to a study which can help understand maternal and infant sleeping behaviour. This internship has provided me with new skills, and improved others; it has been an experience I will never forget.
Rebecca is a third year Anthropology student studying at John Snow College.