‘My internship has helped me develop skills for my degree and my career’

This summer, Christine O’Shea took part in the University of Bristol’s Widening Participation Summer Internship Scheme. This is a paid internship which matches students with a researcher or research project to get hands-on research work experience for six weeks during the summer holidays.

Christine, who is a third year BSc Social Policy and Politics student, worked on the Active-6 study in the Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences, within the School for Policy Studies. Active-6 is a crucial research project exploring the impact of the Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions on the physical activity of Year 6 children and their parents/carers.

Here, Christine shares her experiences of, and learnings from, her internship.

What new skills did you learn on your placement?

I would describe the internship as very hands-on. I felt very much involved in data collection, including many trips to the participating schools and undertaking survey data entry. My involvement in data collection gave me the opportunity to learn how to build a professional relationship with external stakeholders and my colleagues’ help with data entry has made me less apprehensive about learning new software. Also, this internship has broadened my understanding and comfort with using essential office software like Excel. The warm reception I received from my colleagues from the very start of my internship also enabled me to grow my confidence in asking questions and voicing my ideas in meetings.

Were you able to apply your learning from your degree in your placement?

During my time on the project, I completed independent work including desk-based research on the socio-demographic contexts of the study’s schools which allowed me to spot trends which I could apply to interpret the projects data. The internship enabled me to actively apply the skills I have learned from my degree to the real world, including having the chance to listen to and code the qualitative data. As a result, I feel prepared to use qualitative research methods in my dissertation.

What were the most surprising things you learned?

Before the internship, I was quite apprehensive about working in an office as I thought the days would become quite repetitive. However, I never felt bored as there was always something popping up to do – which also taught me that research doesn’t always go as smoothly as planned! As a result, the internship has taught me lessons about how I should approach my dissertation, including planning for potential issues. The internship also taught me how to maintain good communication with participants and how to conduct research ethically.

Has the placement helped you make decisions about your career?

Going forward, I would like to pursue a career in public health and thanks to the help of my colleagues I am aware of how to get started. Speaking with my colleagues has allowed me to understand that no-one’s career path is linear, and they have broadened my awareness of the many job roles there are that are involved in making changes in public health.


Autism and Homelessness – Increasing autism awareness and improving access and engagement in homelessness services

By Dr Beth Stone

Autism is disproportionately over-represented in homeless populations. However, little is known about how autistic people experience homelessness and how best to support them.

My research examined the factors which increase risk of homelessness for autistic people, autistic people’s experiences of homelessness, and barriers to service engagement. The research found that autistic people are at increased risk of homelessness due to the social and economic disadvantages they face throughout their lives such as low educational attainment, difficulties finding and maintaining employment, and social exclusion. Once homeless, support services were often inaccessible or unsuitable. The impact of autism on day-to-day life was not recognised by housing offices. If participants were found eligible for support they were housed in over-crowded and confrontational hostels which aggravated social anxiety and sensory processing difficulties.

Improving services

Working with two local organisations, Bristol Autism Spectrum Service (BASS) and Golden Key, we created an autism and homelessness working group, with the aim of improving local services for autistic people experiencing homelessness.

I also received an ESRC Impact Acceleration Grant to produce a film based on the lived experience of my research participants.

In July, we hosted an event for local stakeholders from homelessness and health services and Bristol City Council.

The event featured:

  • The launch of the film highlighting the experiences of autistic people who have experienced homelessness in the South West of England, followed by a presentation on how autistic people may experience homelessness more generally and barriers to service use (Dr Beth Stone).
  • Presentation of the Autism and Homelessness Toolkit, aimed at improving access to, and engagement with, homelessness services for autistic people (Dr Alasdair Churchard).
  • Autism awareness training provided by Bristol Autism Spectrum Service (BASS).

Discussion in feedback groups indicated ways in which support services planned to adopt autism friendly ways of working into their everyday practice.

View the film launched at the event here.

Next steps

We are putting together a proposal aimed at improving local service provision for autistic people who are experiencing homelessness.

Feedback from discussion groups at the awareness event has helped to shape our proposal, which we will discuss with autistic people with lived experience of homelessness. We will then use the proposal to advocate for wider changes to policy and support services.

Related publications:

Stone, Beth. 2022. “Homelessness as a Product of Social Exclusion: Reinterpreting Autistic Adults’ Narratives through the Lens of Critical Disability Studies.” Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research 24(1), 181–195. DOI: https://www.sjdr.se/articles/10.16993/sjdr.881/

Stone, B., Cameron, A., Dowling, S. 2022. “The autistic experience of homelessness: Implications from a narrative enquiry”. Autism (1-11), DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/13623613221105091


Jess Phillips MP on “Everything You Really Need to Know About Politics”

On October 5th, Jess Phillips MP gave the Policy & Politics Annual Lecture in the University’s Wills Memorial Hall.

Here, Dr Oscar Berglund, co-editor of Policy & Politics, gives an account of the lecture and its themes. This report was first published on the Policy & Politics blog pages.

Policy & Politics was delighted to host Jess Phillips MP to speak to a large audience in Bristol about ‘Everything You Really Need to Know About Politics’.

Jess has been MP for Birmingham Yeardley since 2015 and is arguably one of Britain’s most prominent feminist politicians.

The aim of Phillips’ talk, based on her recent book of the same title, was to demystify British politics in an effort to strengthen the relationship between citizens and their elected representatives. The general scorn for politicians that is so common across the UK serves the Conservatives, she says. When people say ‘What’s the point in voting? You’re all the same’, people think that they are soldiers, that they are taking a stance. But on the contrary, to Phillips, it sounds like surrender.

What has always motivated Phillips to engage in politics has been to end violence against women and girls. ‘Whilst change is slow and hard, everything good in my life, the right to vote, the right to abortion, was delivered to me through politics’. Politics is everything, she says, ‘from the clothes we wear to what’s in my womb’.

Phillips has some key messages in order to demystify and detoxify politics.

People have good intentions. 95% of MPs want to change the world for the better, Phillips states. We also have remarkably similar ideas of what is good, such as people not going hungry and having housing and education. Although people do obviously have different views of how to get there. Painting people as though they are gruesome or evil does not help Phillips in her work to make women and girls safer, she says.

Another important lesson for Phillips has been that most people don’t care about almost anything that you care about. It is futile to lecture people on the basis that they do or should care about something as much as you do. The vast majority of people are not deeply wounded by whatever issue. Apart from the rights of Palestine, Phillips’ constituents don’t care about any of the hot issues on Twitter. People, she says, care more about bins. Aggression and righteousness will never be enough to win people over. Instead, there has to be hopeful vision.

Don’t assume bad faith. For Phillips, bad faith is stifling political activism. We too often assume that people are in politics for the wrong reasons and that stops us from meeting people where they are to achieve our goals. Unfortunately, the small percentage of politicians who are out for themselves often rise to the top. David Cameron and Boris Johnson are in that category, she says.

Central to Phillips’ view of politics is that there is no such thing as perfect policy. There are no obvious answers even though we often think so. All policies have downsides. As an example she cites her first vote on bombing Syria. Although she voted against it, she has come to recognise that people die whether you bomb or not. You’d just feel better about it if you’re not the one pulling the trigger, she says. The idea that there are easy options is wrong. We need to move away from a view that you’re either perfect or you belong in the bin, she says. The certainty that there are simple solutions does us no favours. Slogans don’t mean anything. Instead Phillips believes that we would get more out of our politics if we had more faith and nuance.

Phillips’ final message is to have hope, not despair. Things can be better if we make them better, but it relies on people making it better. Everything that ever changes does so because people decide to.

Asked by an audience member about being brave and outspoken and the danger it brings, Phillips states that if you’re not brave in politics the outcome doesn’t change. Nine people are currently in prison for trying to, or threatening to, attack Jess Phillips. She is one of the most targeted MPs in the UK. ‘If I stopped speaking from a feminist perspective I might be safer but the world doesn’t become safer’.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Policy & Politics, the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors.



Independent living in private gardens – an idea to reduce the risk of youth homelessness

By Dr Jon Symonds and Dr Vicky Sharley

Some young people could avoid becoming homeless if they had the opportunity to reside in an independent living unit situated in their household garden. This was the finding of a recent study by members of the Children and Families Research Centre, working in partnership with the youth homelessness organisation 1625 Independent People.

Youth homelessness is a pressing problem in the UK and the impact on young people can be severe in terms of loneliness, isolation, lack of readiness for moving out and risks to their mental health, poverty and risk of exploitation from others.

If the units were successful, young people could have their own place to live separately from their parent(s), carer(s) or siblings where they could develop their independent living skills, whilst still being able to access care and support from members of their household to prevent feelings of isolation.

The potential benefits of the units

The idea for the study came from an Australian project, Kids Under Cover, which had successfully installed standalone units in privately owned outdoor yard spaces as a way to support families where the young person was at risk of becoming homeless. Units contained a bedroom, living area, electricity and a microwave.

Young people who took part in the study in England liked the idea and felt that it could offer a place of their own outside of a household where there might be overcrowding, or difficult relationships with parents, carers or siblings. It could provide a sense of freedom that they might not have at home, but also help them build responsibility for looking after their space and learning to be independent. If they were provided at the right time, it could help provide the space a young person needs to enable them to repair their relationships with family members, before they break down completely. If the units had a shower room, kitchen facilities and internet access, these were viewed as essential aspects to make the idea work.

Foster carers who took part in the study also saw benefits in the idea. They viewed the idea positively as a way to support young people to make the first step to moving on to their own flat and potentially useful for Staying Put arrangements which facilitate young people in care to maintain a close relationship with their foster carers after they have reached 18.

The design of the units would be an important factor as there is generally much more land available in Australia where the project was originally developed. Here in the UK, some households would be living in urban areas with small gardens and a range of design professionals who participated in the study talked of the innovative design solutions that could be used to fit units into small gardens. There were also questions raised about how long the units would be located for and whether this would be long enough to offset any potential disruption to installing plumbing and electricity in gardens that might have had a lot of work. Considerations would also need to be made for the legal status of the arrangements and whether separate planning permissions would be required, or separate tenancy agreements need to be made.

The importance of support

Although the people we spoke to were very positive about the idea in principle, most people agreed that it should only be considered an option for some young people where they were likely to be able to manage being separate in their own space, and in circumstances where the relationships within the household were strained but not entirely broken. The units were not intended to be used in situations in high conflict or abuse and participants echoed the risks of allowing a potentially abusive situation to continue.

It would also be important to ensure that young people were properly supported in the units and not just left to get on with it. People we spoke to told us about the importance of having support from qualified staff who could help young people with managing housing issues, learning skills of cooking, laundry, college and money, and supporting people with their own wellbeing and mental health. If the idea of the units is to be taken forwards, then plans for these should include provision for personal support as well.


About the study

Jon and Vicky conducted the study in the Southwest of England and collected participants’ views through a series of focus groups. 31 people took part in eight focus groups for young people, practitioners who worked with young people, foster carers, managers of agencies who supported children and young people, and design and construction consultants. The focus groups were held during the Covid pandemic and were conducted online, using Microsoft Teams. An online questionnaire for strategic managers was also developed which was completed by seven people.

About the authors and acknowledgements

This blog was written by Dr Jon Symonds and Dr Vicky Sharley, who worked in partnership with Jamie Gill from 1625 Independent People. The study was funded by Commonweal Housing.

Photo by Iza Gawrych on Unsplash.


Widen your horizons with a year abroad

Studying or working abroad is a fantastic opportunity to internationalise your degree, boost your personal development and gain a new perspective on your studies.

Each year, more than 700 Bristol students spend a semester or year abroad. Students often say that their placement abroad was a highlight of their degree.

Here, Hannah talks about her experience of studying at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, as part of her BSc in Criminology.

It must have been daunting leaving your family and friends behind. How did you feel when you first arrived?

During the first week it felt like I was on holiday, if not slightly hectic. Whilst you’re trying to settle yourself in and complete necessary errands, like buying a phone SIM and opening a bank account, you are also trying to meet people and explore your new home before university commences. I personally didn’t struggle to meet people as I lived in a shared house with a large group of students from other universities. However, if you do feel lonely or like you are struggling to meet people, the university hosts welcome/mingling events during orientation week which a lot of students attend so this can also be a good way to meet people.

What was the course like?

I found the studying side of the year enjoyable. The workload was similar to what I have been used to at Bristol, but with more frequent assessments throughout the semester. I decided to take two open units and two units compatible with my course, which was really rewarding as it allowed me to explore new subjects/interests outside of my degree subject.

How did you spend your time outside of your studies?

In terms of socialising and travelling, there was so much to do in and around Brisbane and the city was always putting on events and entertainment. The university also has societies for international students which you can join to meet people or just enjoy the events they host; QUEST is particularly good for this. With regard to travelling, you will almost certainly do some travelling in your year abroad and I would 100% recommend this but definitely start saving as soon as you can to ensure you can fully experience each destination you choose without feeling too much of a financial strain.

What’s your advice to students taking a year abroad?

I think a great way to approach the year is to be open and friendly to everyone. You will meet so many people throughout the year so keeping an open mind to experiences and people will be hugely beneficial to you. I also think it is important to remember that you are in the same boat as lots of other students and you are all probably feeling the same way, so don’t worry if you are feeling a bit daunted at first as you will soon find your feet.

Find out more about Study Abroad here.