UCL Institute of Health Informatics


The UCL IHI Student Experience: #3 Nonie Alexander

17 September 2019

The UCL Institute of Health Informatics offers a range of postgraduate study programmes and students benefit from being at the centre of a unique hub of biomedical and informatics research expertise. Here, one of our current students shares their thoughts on life at the UCL IHI.

Nonie Alexander

Nonie Alexander is currently a PhD student at the UCL Institute of Health Informatics. Nonie shared her thoughts on what it is like to study at the UCL IHI:

What project are you currently working on?

I’m a PhD student at the UCL IHI and initially I was using clustering analysis of electronic health records (EHR) to identify subgroups in Alzheimer’s disease. More recently however I’ve moved away from looking specifically at one disease and I’m focusing on evaluating subgroups more generally. It felt like a natural progression as a response to my supervisors questions regarding my earlier work. As it stands there is no empirical way to approach evaluating subtyping results in EHR so my aim is to come up with an evaluative framework. I’m also hoping my results might help researchers clarify what they can infer from their results.

Having read around 50 papers on the topic of subtyping, it seems clear to me no subtyping research has had an impact in a clinical setting. This needs to happen so I hope my work might help.

What excited you about the project?

Aside from the science, my project provides a lot of learning opportunities such as using amazing data sets (CRPD and CALIBER),  learning how to code and how to make my work reproducible. As well as learning lots of science, I’m also gaining knowledge of data science and software elements which are more applicable to the world outside of academia.

The impact my project could have is also really exciting. If it’s done right, my work could really affect how phenotyping is carried out and even hopefully raise the quality of it. Raising the bar in this field as I hope to do, will increase the chance that other people’s research will be applicable and impactful.

What made you choose the UCL IHI?

I wanted to do a ‘dry’ PhD ie one that was not in a wet lab and the UCL IHI was the only institute at UCL to offer this as part of my DTP. Additionally, it’s been invaluable having access to the Data Lab, CALIBER and experts who really understand the data well which wouldn’t have been possible elsewhere.

What is your favourite aspect of being a student at the UCL IHI?

There’s a really supportive group of PhD students here which is great. We’re all doing different research and so have different specialist areas which means there are always people to go to for advice. It has been great having opportunities to collaborate and work on ideas outside of my project and unrelated to my PhD. For example we recently set up a Hangman game where we created algorithms to play both sides and I’m now working on an algorithm to predict fantasy football scores!

All the PhD students are also all really fun to hang out with and in comparison to a wet lab we get a lot of opportunities to do so as we sit in the same office together every day.

What has been your greatest achievement here so far? 

Passing my upgrade was a huge achievement and I recently had the opportunity to present a poster at the AAIC conference in LA. It’s one of the biggest AD conferences and the welcome drinks were at Universal Studios!

I also recently organised a HDR UK panel discussion on AI and healthcare for PhD students. It was brilliant to be able to see how the research here is put into context.  I got the chance to use skills that I don’t normally get to use such as organising events, producing promotional materials and leadership skills (telling people what to do in way that means that they still like you has been great to learn!). Paul Taylor, the HDR UK London training lead convened a group of PhD students from different institutes and we went from there. We’re now organising a second one for October on the topic of genomics, precision medicine and the NHS. This project is something I never thought I’d get the opportunity to do but the connection between the Institute and HDR UK has made it possible.

What advice would you give to prospective students considering a course at the UCL IHI?

If you’re considering a PhD at the UCL IHI just do it! You’ll have the opportunity to be at the cutting edge of science in an environment full of flashy, cool research which is going to be the future of healthcare. The IHI provides a middle ground between clinicians and mathematicians who are developing models plus they have a great network. For example, the Institute has connections with BenevolentAI, DeepMind health as well as with other companies developing very cool stuff in the field of healthcare technology.  

Once you’re here my advice would be to form a  good support network and don’t only rely on your supervisor. Don’t’ worry it’s easy because there are loads of people around with specialist skills.

What will you do once you finish being a student at the UCL IHI?

I haven’t decided yet but I’ve kept lots of doors open by doing a PhD here. If I decide I want to stay in academia I can do that or, if I want to go to a cool techy health start up, I can do that but also if I decide to move away from science I can apply the things I’ve learnt to policy or marketing for example.

To find out more about the learning opportunities we offer at the UCL IHI, visit our study pages. 

If you have any questions about coming to study here email the education team.