Turing-Roche Community Scholar Scheme Personal Story#


My name is Vicky Hellon and I am the Research Community Manager for the Turing-Roche Strategic Partnership. This 5-year partnership is developing new data science methods to investigate large, complex, clinical and healthcare datasets to better understand how and why patients respond differently to treatment, and how treatment can be improved.

This personal story covers my experiences of establishing an Ambassador Scheme, which we named the Turing-Roche Community Scholar Scheme. I co-led this scheme with my colleague and partnership lead Sarah McGough, Head of Technical Innovation & Shared Platforms, Computational Catalysts, gRED Computational Sciences at Roche, and with assistance from our partnership project manager, Maria Anagnostopoulou.

Motivations and Background#

Our initial ideas around the scheme were born out of discussions about having more conference representation from the partnership and whether we could run a scheme that funded travel for students to attend conferences.

From this discussion, we realised we actually had the capacity to run a scheme where early career researchers could travel to a conference but also engage further with the partnership and run their own community activities. It was also an ideal time to set it up (around two years into the five year partnership), as it meant we had research projects up and running that participants could integrate into their community activities; I think we were not established enough to run the scheme any earlier. The principal benefit of the scheme for us was increasing the reach and engagement of the partnership by working with students in relevant research areas, connecting with their networks and overall bolstering our community.

At that time, if you wanted to engage with the partnership as an external researcher the main ways you could do this were through our open research funding calls or through existing community activities, such as attending our virtual seminars. Therefore, in addition, we also felt this scheme would support me, as the Research Community Manager, to add ways for the growing external community to participate through the new community activities.

Lastly, the scheme would be a great opportunity for us as an academic-industry collaboration to play a role in supporting the career development of early career researchers and giving them experience of organisations from two different sectors (academia and industry), which we felt passionate about. This type of cross-sectorial experience is hard to come by for early career researchers and a particular area in need of upskilling, highlighted in various UK government reports, such as the UK’s National Data Strategy. This also would deliver more tangible impact and legacy for the partnership beyond the research collaboration itself.

Scheme Set-up#

The Turing Institute had a student scheme in place (the Enrichment Scheme) but this worked quite differently to what we wanted to do for the scholar scheme, so the set up was as a brand new programme, which with documentation and processes, was a huge undertaking. As with any new project or activity, it was useful to think about what we wanted to achieve with the scheme and work backwards from there to brainstorm how it should work in practice.

We put together an initial scoping document, ensuring objectives of the scheme were in place and the roles and responsibilities supporting its implementation were well defined. We took this to the partnership leadership team to get some early feedback. The decision was taken to ensure that the activities would be community based, rather than research based due to intellectual property agreements in place between the Turing and Roche.

We also shared the document with the finance, legal and project management teams at the Turing to understand what details we’d need to provide and finalise for approvals. Getting the scheme signed off with each department turned out to be what took the longest in the set-up phase.

With the finance team, we had initially wanted to open the scheme to PhD students and postdoctoral researchers, however we felt strongly about paying a stipend to the scholars and this proved tricky for people on a non-student contract, so the decision was taken to open to PhD students only. We also settled on only PhD students based in the UK for the same logistical reasons.

With the legal team, we put in place a framework and discussed issues around data protection, time commitment for students, sign off from their supervisor and using Turing-Roche branding for things that would be made externally available from the community activities.

For project management, we have a full time project manager working on the partnership, so this was easier to plan with them - we discussed logistics around processing expenses for the scholars and a delivery action plan on how to launch the application process.

Overall approval from all the departments required a lot of documentation on how things would work in practice and how we would navigate any potential issues. Whilst this felt like a lot of work up-front, it was actually very helpful down the line to have pre-planned.

The format we finalised for the scheme was for a year-long programme, welcoming 10 PhD students based at UK institutions. The scholars would embed themselves within the partnership community, attend a relevant conference and undertake a selected, community-based activity, with a £3000 stipend- £2000 paid directly (at the halfway and finish mark) and £1000 to use for conference and project expenses. The scholars would continue their PhD studies whilst being part of the scheme, with the aim of the scheme being a low time commitment of around 3-5 hours a month.

We felt running the programme on an academic year timeline (September to September) would be helpful for students. We also took the decision not to open up the scheme to students in the first year of their PhD as we felt the time commitment of the scheme may be overwhelming for them.

We put together various documentation when we opened applications for the scheme, which you can find here. These documents include: a call document, FAQs, letters for the university department and students PhD supervisor to sign; so we could ensure they were on board with the student taking part and a student agreement; which sets out responsibilities. We also ran an information webinar with a Q&A session, which was helpful to see the level of interest from registrants and also gave us insights into what we needed to provide more information on. We put a recording of this event on our YouTube channel for anyone who couldn’t attend to make the information more accessible.

We opened applications for the scheme for 6 weeks over the 2023 June/July period. This was probably the minimum amount of time we would recommend having the applications open. For the application process, we tried to ensure it was fairly light-touch, so as not to overburden the students. We provided some example activities that students could choose in their application, but also gave them the option to apply with one they had designed, with no penalties either way.

We discussed having an interview process, but in the end decided that we felt the application form would contain sufficient information for us to make a decision. The shortlisting panel was a diverse group from the partnership core team and we used the following criteria to assess the applications:

  1. Relevance (in research/interests/education) - applicant has a good understanding of the partnership research and how their own research is relevant to this

  2. Proposal (quality/scope) - applicant clearly identifies how they will put their project into action, how past experience will help with this

  3. Motivations (clear or unclear) - applicant demonstrates clearly why they want to be a Community Scholar, how they will contribute

For unsuccessful applications, we provided some short feedback and our project manager worked with the successful applicants to execute the necessary legal agreements ahead of the scheme launch which was in September 2023. At the time of writing, we are just over halfway through the scheme.

Scheme in Practice#

Before our first onboarding call, we sent across a detailed onboarding document about the scheme that could also be referred to throughout the year. At the virtual group onboarding call, we spent time giving information on how the scheme will work and also scheduled the last portion of the call as breakout rooms for socialising, which we felt was important for the scholars to get to know each other as a cohort. We led with a virtual first approach as our scholars were located across the UK and therefore this was a much more inclusive approach.

In the weeks after this group onboarding call, we then scheduled individual onboarding calls with each scholar to make sure they were set up on the correct systems (such as our Slack Workspace, Google Drive and our GitHub Repository) and helped them start to plan their activities and set out milestones on template documents we had prepared.

Every two months, we scheduled a virtual group cohort call where scholars filled in a document in advance with:

  • A short activity and conference update

  • A rose: a line on something that has been going well

  • A cactus: a line on something that has been tricky/not been going well

  • Any asks you have for the group

At the call we would go through this document, encouraging the group to give advice and support to each other. The second half of the call would feature a guest speaker(s) from Turing and/or Roche on a theme we asked for scholars input on. Some of the topics we’ve had so far are ‘Advice on how to become a better Data Scientist’, ‘Alternative career paths from the Turing’ and ‘Methods development: collaborations beyond industry’.

In between these calls, our communication with the scholars was ad hoc as needed. Their main point of contact was me, Sarah McGough, partnership lead from Roche, and our project manager Maria Anagnostopoulou, for logistical queries such as expenses. The scholars could connect with us and with each other through the Turing-Roche Slack Workspace in a dedicated channel and by individual messages. We had online calls with the scholars fairly regularly to support them fully on developing their activities. Different activities developed at different timescales so we found the support we were providing each scholar wasn’t linear.

The activities the scholars developed varied widely. You can find the full list of activities here, but some examples are a tech-talk event series, a Turing Way chapter on risk of bias, a one day conference bringing together data scientists and pathologists, a health data science podcast and a video animation series explaining partnership research.

For their sponsored conference, we asked scholars to select one relevant to the partnerships’ research but also to their own studies. We encouraged them to present their research at the conference for experience, but this wasn’t mandatory. Each scholar then produced a post conference output to feed back to the community about their experiences. An example blog from our scholar Syafiq Ramlee can be found here.

In terms of communications around the scheme, we announced the launch through a webpage and also made the scholars milestone documents and conference tracking document available through our GitHub Repository. In our monthly partnership newsletter, we also featured a different scholar every month to raise their profile.

At around the halfway point of the scheme was AI UK; a national conference of data science and AI organised by the Turing. The partnership was exhibiting a demonstration booth at AI UK and we used this as an opportunity to invite the scholars to the conference to meet each other and the partnership team for the first time in-person. After the conference, we also organised a social event to extend the networking opportunity. We found this a really valuable experience for everyone getting to know each other better and making the cohort feel more cohesive.

As mentioned earlier, the scheme has not finished at time of writing, but we are planning a final in-person celebration event at the Turing to celebrate the scholars’ achievements. The scholars will also be writing a summary of their experiences, which we plan to incorporate in an online yearbook. We also plan to gather formal feedback from the scholars on what we can improve for next time.


Overall, we are really proud of the scheme and very happy we established it. It was hard to predict what we would achieve from our first cohort, but what the scholars have produced through their creative and scientific backgrounds is phenomenal and wouldn’t have been able to be created by our team alone. The success of the scheme has in essence been because it’s mutually beneficial - we have gained outputs that cover the breadth of the partnership and link to our research in a new engaging way, whilst the students have gained new skills and experiences outside of their PhD studies.

A key learning for us is the time commitment for the scheme on both sides. It was really valuable to have two people from the partnership team co-leading for support. Having 10 students was really a bit of a guess on our part as the right number, but we have found whilst this is a small group it was about right for supporting each student and encouraging a cohort feel. On the other side, it’s good to be clear about timings for the scheme for your participants and be wary that they have other commitments. This is also why it’s useful to include activity planning as part of the application process (to get applicants thinking early about what’s feasible in the timeframe) and the milestone plan we developed with students at the start.

Furthermore, if you are having outputs from your participants, think about how and when these will be released. It may be impactful to release everything at the end of your scheme, or in our case a lot of the multimedia outputs we aimed to stagger throughout the year for more individual impact.

A key consideration should be around how to build a sense of community in your cohort, which is always tricky. We found a shared Slack channel really helped for casual ad-hoc communication, particularly as our cohort was virtual first. Having a halfway point in-person meet up also helped a cohort feel, although this is balanced with the advantages of virtual such as accessibility and inclusivity.

Our final bit of advice is to build flexibility into your scheme. Whilst planning is a must, we found once the scheme was up and running we did need to make some changes. Examples of this being teaming up two scholars for a joint activity to combine their strengths and the aforementioned halfway in-person meet up, which we initially hadn’t planned on but felt like it was a good opportunity.