• Ornela Bardhi

Rome wasn’t built in a day – my road to becoming a CATCH ESR

I have been very fortunate to be funded throughout my studies by the European Commission. It all started during the 2nd year of my bachelors. A project specific to engineering, mathematics and the sciences was offering scholarships to students from all over the world to study at some of the best universities in Europe. I was accepted and 1 year after, I was determined to follow the same path for my masters as well. I started my masters almost 3 years ago, the program had a long name but most of the people know it by its acronym, PERCCOM (Pervasive Computing and Communication for Sustainable Development). The joint European masters program was and is still funded by European Commission. As a final project, I was convinced I wanted to combine technology with medicine (I always had a weak spot for medicine, probably because my father is a doctor – so it runs in the family). While working on ehealth for 8 months at Lulea University of Technology, I realized I loved doing research and I was ready to move on onto the next step, a PhD.

During my masters, I had conversations with different professors in and out of the PERCCOM consortium, and they all said the same thing: It is very hard for a project to receive funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, because they get a lot of great applications, and only a few get funded. I already had an idea on what I wanted to work on, so I was very selective on the projects I was looking at.

One got my attention: CATCH (Cancer: Activating Technology for Connected Health). It had everything I was looking for:

  • Interdisciplinary project with the possibility to collaborate with and learn from people of diverse backgrounds

  • Working closely with companies, clinics and hospitals – an industrial PhD, very hard to find and even harder to be accepted in

  • My topic was exactly the one I had in mind: a combination of technology with medicine and patient oriented

  • I always wanted to learn and work on machine learning and deep learning, hot topics at the moment

  • Working at some of the best universities and research labs in Europe

The start of 2017 was very adventurous: a new year, a new country, a new place to call home and most importantly a new status. I wasn’t just a student anymore, I had more responsibility, I was a researcher.

As I was used to Nordic countries for almost 2 years, the first few days were difficult, but people at University of Deusto, specially the eLife Lab, part of DeustoTech where I’m based, were very welcoming and very helpful. I liked how Francisco, one of CATCH ESRs, in his recent article about his PhD journey so far, compared the PhD journey to a roller-coaster journey – a great parallelism. Well, my roller-coaster brought me to University of Deusto, but it will send me to Beacon Hospital in Dublin, Ireland as well.

The eLife Lab is a lab within the DestoTech department. The research group “is committed to pursuing its innovative activities in the sphere of health and accessibility”. The main research areas are:

  • Health

  • ICT for well-being

Health includes:

  • Signal processing, medical signal processing algorithms: image and voice

  • Diagnostic software, tele-treatment, tele-assistance in: otolaryngology, dermatology, radiology, oncology

  • Functional Magnetic Resonance Scanning in: Neuropsychology

ICT for well-being includes projects on:

  • People with special needs: development of applications for e-inclusion and autonomy for home, work and outdoors

  • Accessible education: adaptation of contents for training for the disabled

Besides DeustoTech, I am working closely with Deusto Business School Health (DBS Health), which is an executive education, research and social outreach unit of Deusto Business School. DBS Health was created with the firm commitment to respond to the different challenges facing the health and social care sectors, both of which are undergoing deep changes. Its aim is to lead this process and interact with the world of business and technology by promoting and disseminating knowledge. This new center looks to boost reform in health care policy, while defining and monitoring operative solutions and results. It will also serve as an observatory to follow up on these changes. The focus of research is on the implementation of integrated care and systemic transformation of healthcare delivery and financing. Other topics such as the impact of multimorbidity, patient experience and value-based healthcare are part of our research interests.

Although it’s been only three months since I commenced my PhD, I’ve learned a lot. My topic is focused on cancer patient’s clinical care pathways, which was a new research field for me, so I had and still have to read … a lot. Besides reading, a great way to learn is taking courses and trainings. I was right on time to enroll and be part of such courses as Artificial Intelligence techniques, Qualitative research methodology, gain a better insight on research ethics, how to write a paper, what to do during the publication acceptance process, etc. I consider these 3 months to be very quiet, knowing that the next ones will include a lot of traveling, more training and learning, and working especially on deep learning techniques on healthcare. Looking forward this next upcoming months, but also beyond.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I’ve only laid the foundation of “my Rome” so far.

#PhD #connectedhealth #EU #Deusto #research

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