UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering


Spotlight on: Dr Olga Perski

22 February 2022

Dr Olga Perski is a Senior Research Fellow in the UCL Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group and co-chair of our Careers Delivery Group.

Dr Olga Perski

What is your ‘day job’ at UCL and what does it involve? 

I’m currently a Senior Research Fellow in the UCL Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group (funded by Cancer Research UK). My work sits at the intersection of health psychology/behavioural science and technology. I work across a few different projects where the goal is to study how we can best support people to stop smoking and drink less alcohol via interactive and tailored smartphone apps, chatbots, virtual reality, and hybrid human-digital support. For example, we recently completed a pilot randomised controlled trial of a brief virtual reality scenario for smokers unmotivated to stop. 

A typical workday involves planning/designing upcoming quantitative (e.g., experimental, observational) or qualitative studies with people who have used a specific digital health tool/app, collecting data from participants (typically online), analysing quantitative or qualitative data, reading, reviewing and writing papers, and discussing research with students and colleagues.  

You can hear more about my digital health work here in a recent podcast for the UCL Social Science Domain.

What is the Careers Delivery Group and how did you get involved? 

The UCL IHE Careers Delivery Group aims to support early-career researchers (PhD students, post-docs, lecturers) in the fields of healthcare engineering and digital health to develop research and transferrable skills (e.g., communication and presentation skills, networking skills, grant writing skills) and expand their professional and peer networks at UCL and beyond. We do this by organising regular events (e.g., an Early-Career Researcher Symposium, ADAPT to Thrive) for and with UCL’s early-career researcher community.  

I got involved in the Careers Delivery Group after a discussion with my then PhD supervisor, Prof. Ann Blandford, who is an advocate of interdisciplinary digital health (see, for example, this paper). As a fellow early-career researcher, I saw the value in organising events for my own and others’ benefit. I wanted to get to know UCL’s healthcare engineering and digital health community better, with a view to establishing new cross-faculty and cross-departmental collaborations. Through my involvement in the IHE Careers Delivery Group, I have expanded my network and set up a new interdisciplinary collaboration with engineering and data science colleagues to apply supervised machine learning to data collected from a popular smoking cessation app. 

What achievement are you most proud of as co-chair? 

That’s an easy question - our first full-day UCL IHE Early-Career Researcher Symposium (which took place in October 2021)! We received lots of high-quality submissions from early-career researchers across UCL’s many departments and faculties. It was a great day filled with exciting and innovative science. I hope the Symposium will become an annual event! You can read more about it here.

What are your ambitions for the next year? 

We have some exciting plans in store for 2022, including a ‘discipline hopping’ scheme where clinicians can shadow (or experience a ‘day in the life of’) computer scientists/engineers/lab scientists and vice versa. It can be very helpful for interdisciplinary projects to understand collaborators' working contexts, time pressures, and priorities. Keep your eyes open for the scheme call and please get in touch with the Careers Delivery Group if you would like to get involved. This may, for example, involve hosting a colleague or helping us identify people in your network who may be interested in contributing to the discipline hopping scheme. 

What’s your favourite thing to do around UCL? 

Given my work is largely conducted online (rather than in a wet lab), I haven’t spent much time at or around UCL for the last 2 years. I do, however, really enjoy the proximity to Regent’s Park and would highly recommend visiting it! 

Learn more about the Careers Delivery Group