After completing my PhD in Psychiatry I moved halfway around the world to the UK to take up my first postdoc position. It’s always great to travel for work and get a fresh perspective from a new place and new colleagues. Most exciting though is that my move takes me right to the heart of a multidisciplinary team that’s spearheading the development of a new way of working with cohort data. Potentially it offers me the chance to open up the scope of the research questions I can grapple with.
As a researcher I’m primarily here to pursue my ideas, of course. At the moment I’m planning a study that aims to examine how vascular changes relate to depression and cognition. I also take part in technology development meetings and it’s been an unexpected but rewarding aspect of my work that gives me a lot of hope for the quality of science that researchers in my field and others will be able to produce in the future.
A researcher driving Data Portal development
These days, I have an active role in the development of the Data Portal. I’m sharing my experiences of variable selection, the time it takes to understand the data and the reality of cross-cohort analysis today with the team who are actually developing the technology that potentially transforms the way I’m working now. I’m contributing alongside informatics experts, imaging scientists, developers and neurologists. The Data Portal will be a truly multidisciplinary resource which draws on the expertise in so many fields. I feel lucky because I’m seeing all this development from the inside. I know it’s happening and I can feel optimistic about the opportunities that this means for me as a researcher in the years to come.
A common problem with cohort data is small sample sizes. I need big multidimensional data to work with.
Cross-cohort analysis: progress towards better science
As is the case for so many researchers working in my field, both long-term and specialist cohort data is valuable for my work. I’ve worked with single cohorts in the past, but I – and many of my colleagues – are wanting to use bigger, multidimensional datasets now. Dementia is a complex condition, with so many interacting factors for the scientific community to untangle. Some of the most important questions about the interrelationships between physical and mental health can only be answered with larger multidimensional datasets. The Data Portal is on its way to deliver that, and with the upgrades that are currently taking place, I believe it is the right path and model for the way data access can work in the future.
Are you a researcher interested in working in the Data Portal? Take a look at our new support for researchers pages.
What to read next
Swansea, the hub of the UK’s world leading informatics expertise, is where you’ll hear the hum of the hundreds of UKSeRP servers that are the home to the DPUK Data Portal. The virtual space of the Data Portal is, in reality, run from Swansea University’s state-of-the-art Data Science Building overlooking the Bristol Channel. Here, Mark Newbury is one of the people you’re very likely to be regularly in touch with. Mark’s on hand to help bring researchers to data, because, as all researchers know, it’s not quite as simple as a click of a button, just yet.