Alex Robinson case study

Knowledge Exchange Internship at Birmingham City Council
Public Health Intern
BA History and Philosophy, 2020

Alex RobinsonTell us a bit about yourself and your internship.

Hi, I’m Alex and I graduated in 2020 with BA History and Philosophy. Prior to this internship, I had worked for 18 months in various short term research, data analysis and community engagement roles in the third sector. From April to June 2022, I was a Public Health Intern at Birmingham City Council through UOB’s Knowledge Exchange Programme. During the internship, I worked with the Food Team conducting participant observation research in All Saints Church Community Café in Small Heath to identify the successes, challenges, and support needs of the service from the perspective of the café’s staff and service users. The findings and report from this ultimately informed the team’s food provision asset map and wider strategy. Furthermore, as part of the Commonwealth Lifestyle Behaviours Project, I conducted desk-based research on mental health policies and campaigns in Nigeria and delivered a presentation to Birmingham’s Director of Public Health about how this could inform Birmingham’s approach to mental health support for their Nigerian community.

What were your reasons/motivations for applying for this internship?

Towards the end of my degree in 2020, I knew I wanted a career that enabled me to use research to learn about people’s life experiences and develop policy to tackle social inequalities, but I was unsure on what this looked like in practice. Having worked entirely virtually for 18 months during the pandemic in various research and community engagement roles in small third sector organisations, I was keen to experience a different type of organisation and ultimately gain clarification on my career goals. I worked regularly with local authorities, so was curious about understanding their perspective. So, the opportunity to engage with communities face-to-face for a large, local authority was very appealing. I also saw it as an excellent chance to develop my research, writing and communication skills in a new context. Through previous roles, I had developed an interest in improving the health and wellbeing of local communities, and I wanted to explore a career in Public Health. I was particularly interested in using community-based interventions, e.g., social prescribing, for addressing health inequalities and was eager to learn more about how they worked, so conducting research with service users in a community café was a significant motivation. I am glad to say the internship gave me exactly what I wanted.

What did you gain from doing this internship?

Firstly, the internship enabled me to develop my research and community engagement skills by working in person with the public and conducting participant observation, which was a new research method for me. I had the opportunity to engage with diverse communities and vulnerable people, which significantly improved my understanding of health inequalities, as well as my verbal communication and relationship building. Working with The Active Wellbeing Society through the internship further reinforced my passion for improving health and wellbeing in communities and showed me the value of community-based, holistic health interventions for doing this. The internship enabled me to develop my professional network and increased my awareness of the opportunities for career progression within Birmingham City Council. I enjoyed the work so much that I applied for, and secured, a permanent role in the Communities Team in Public Health at Birmingham City Council, where I have continued to learn new skills and pursue my passion. The experience, insider knowledge and network of colleagues that I gained from the internship undoubtedly contributed towards my success. I am writing this a year on from the internship, and I can confidently say that I love my job!

Can you share some top tips for students/graduates who may want to apply to this programme and/or any work/internship?

My first tip, that I learned the hard way, is to always prioritise your wellbeing and take breaks while job hunting. When you’re coming to the end of university, the pressure to find a job can be overwhelming, especially in the face of constant rejections. But keep going, look after yourself and don’t lose sight of who you are. You’ll get there!

My second tip is to always tailor your applications to the role and the company. Resist the urge to send the same application to as many companies as possible because it’s obvious to any employer who reads it when you’ve done this. Do not be afraid to reach out to someone from the company for a chat before applying (LinkedIn is very useful for this). It’s the perfect opportunity to find out more about the role and what they’re looking for. It is also important to know how your application is going to be scored, as different organisations can use very different formats. At Birmingham City Council, we give your application a score from 0-3 for each point on the person specification, so make sure you explicitly cover each requirement with clear examples. If you don’t mention a requirement, you’ve lost 3 points!

My third tip is to make the most of the Careers Network, even as a graduate. The services are not just for students- I got this internship 18 months after graduating. I found booking appointments with a careers adviser incredibly useful for figuring out what I wanted to do and how to get there. The ‘Insight Into…’ series and application writing courses are also very informative.

During your internship, network as much as possible. Talk to your colleagues about what opportunities are available, show an interest in future work with the company and you’ll likely receive some valuable advice. Also, I found setting up a support network with other interns through a group chat helped solve many problems through the internship and made the experience far more enjoyable.


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