An undergrad’s experience of the Think Ahead SURE Scheme

9 December 2020
By Emily Michalik-Denny

This summer I was lucky enough to take part in the Think Ahead SURE scheme, a summer research programme lasting for 6-8 weeks at the University of Sheffield based in the Faculties of Medicine, Dentistry and Health or Science. Prior to application, prospective applicants are able to review the wide variety of projects available to work on and apply to several simultaneously. Each project is designed and headed by a PhD student who supervises the undergraduate, providing a unique opportunity for peer learning and research. The application process is competitive requiring the submission of a CV and covering letter followed by a panel interview headed by the project leaders.

Change 4 life food scanner app screen grab

The project and its context

The Project I worked on was offered by a PhD student in ScHARR and aimed to map out the Behavioural Change Techniques (BCTs) of the Change4Life Food Scanner app.

Behavioural Change Techniques are the ‘active ingredients’ of evidenced-based behavioural strategies. These include things like social support, prompts and ques and feedback on behaviour to name a few. The app itself was developed by Public Health England as part of a wider public health campaign aimed at families to target obesity.

The app works by allowing the user to scan the barcode of food products and then provides the nutritional content of the item presented in several ways. Evidence suggests that interventions with a theoretical grounding tend to be more successful in achieving their intended outcome, however it was unclear whether the Change4Life Food Scanner app was designed with theory in mind. BCT mapping was therefore required to identify the presence of BCTs, and their combinations, in order to provide a basis for evaluation of the intervention. The project mapped an updated and outdated version of the app finding that both encompassed BCTs which have previously been found to be effective in similar settings.

My experience

Undertaking this project has helped me develop both academically and personally.

One of my preparatory tasks was to prepare a grant application to fund the research project, which I worked on with my supervisor. As we were about to submit the application, we discovered that the organisation we were applying to were cancelling funding due to the covid-19 pandemic. Further bad news followed when we were informed by the university that the SURE scheme would be cancelled for the year, due to the impending lockdown and the covid-19 pandemic.

This news was devastating, however my supervisor and I were determined not to lose the opportunity. Together we negotiated with the organisers of the scheme to allow us to continue with the project. Unfortunately we now had no funding, so we would be working from home on a voluntary basis and I would be undertaking the project part-time while working a part-time job. This experience honed my determination, perseverance and time management skills.

The project allowed me to experience the inner workings of academic research from literature searches and presenting results, to preparing a manuscript for publication. This ignited a desire to pursue further research activities and has equipped me with invaluable experience that I hope to apply in my future study and career.

At present, our manuscript is being reviewed for publication and should it be accepted, would mean that I will be a second author on a published piece of research as an undergraduate – something which I never would have imagined happening!

A call for ScHARR students

The SURE scheme is open to PhD students and early career researchers from the Faculties of Medicine, Dentistry and Health or Science. There are very few projects offered by ScHARR, so I would encourage any PhD students and early career researchers from ScHARR to get involved with the SURE scheme. This scheme provides a greater variety of projects for the undergraduate students to get involved with.

The SURE scheme is a fantastic opportunity for PhD students and researchers to gain supervisor experience and help an undergraduate flourish in their own research experience.


Emily Michalik-Denny: