February 25, 2022
Bridging research between industry and academia
By: Vassilis Baltatzis
London Bridge

I'm originally from Thessaloniki, Greece, and I moved to London in 2017 to join the Centre for Doctoral Training in Medical Imaging to pursue my PhD studies. My PhD is on deep learning for the early detection of lung cancer, and I'm based at King's College London and Imperial College London.

I was looking for internships and as I follow the Turing Institute, I noticed the programme that was being run as a collaboration between Accenture and Turing. For my internship, I was virtually based at the Accenture Labs in Dublin and worked on a research project that focused on designing an ‘explainability’ subsystem for knowledge graph embedding models, which are machine learning models that work on graph data or knowledge graphs.

Even though this project was research based, it’s still very well connected to the real world and real-world applications. And it also fed into various collaborations and projects that Accenture has with clients and with other partners. It’s not going to just sit on the shelf or just be a research paper somewhere. It's going to be applicable to various projects that the research labs in Dublin are partners in.

Given the virtual nature of the internship, it was tougher than it would have been otherwise to interact with people. Having said that, there were various reading groups, training programmes and opportunities to engage with and learn from. But what was really interesting was the interaction with the rest of the interns. We had weekly coffee online together – and that gave us a chance to catch up with one another and hear about what the others were up to.

The highlight of that was when we managed to visit the Accenture London offices for a day organised around our interests and things that we wanted to see and do. That included both project-specific and topic-specific talks from Accenture people, as well as presentations about careers. It was great to get together and see each other for the first time in person. It had always been really important for me to get out and about as much as possible during the pandemic, making sure that I exercised, for example, and spent time outdoors in order to balance the more cerebral academic and research activities.

Before I started on the internship programme, I knew Accenture as a multinational consulting company. What I didn’t know is that they had their own research labs as well, and do a huge amount of in-house research. That was a welcome surprise, and for me it’s an aspect of Accenture that I found really suits me. For me, the research labs and innovation centres sit somewhere in between the worlds of pure academia and industry, and combine some of the elements of each. It allows you to do research, but in an industry environment.

I was particularly impressed with the support I received. I had regular meetings with my supervisor, but in addition to that, whenever I needed something or had a question outside of those meeting times, he was always there, always ready to answer. And if it was something outside his areas of expertise, say a more practical or organisational question, he would always follow up with the right people or direct me to the best person to speak with.

I’d definitely recommend the internship as an experience and a very productive addition to academic study. If I were to offer any advice, I think it would be to be clear about what you want to do. For example, whether you’re more interested in the consulting side of things or research. For me, it was the latter, and that meant I was able to choose relevant projects during the interview process. There is a great range of possibilities and options through this programme, so it should be possible to find something that aligns with your interests.

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