Spotlight on: Hikaru Bolt

Every month, we will be profiling early career researchers working at CMMID. This month we shine a spotlight on Hikaru Bolt, asking him some questions about his research, plans for future and being an early career researcher at LSHTM.
Hikaru Bolt

Tell us about your current research

My PhD is based on the hypothesis that acute kidney injury (AKI) hospitalisations in England might be driven by norovirus. To explore this I’m modelling norovirus transmission in the community to see to what extent it might contribute to AKI hospitalisation trends.

With norovirus vaccines in the pipeline, I want to model different vaccine strategies to see what might have the greatest impact on the norovirus burden in England, and also what impact the vaccine might make on AKI hospitalisations. I’m planning on doing a health economic evaluation of the different vaccination strategies as well.

But AKI has so many different causes! So I’m also carrying out another study using machine learning to identify different phenotypes of AKI (the different characteristics of people with AKI) using electronic health records.

I’m in my second year of my PhD, I took three months parental leave following the birth of my daughter and I’m also now doing the PhD part-time to balance parenting alongside my research. My PhD is funded by the National Institute for Health Research Health Protection Unit (NIHR HPRU) in Modelling and Economics. I’m supervised by Roz Eggo, Laurie Tomlinson, and Frank Sandmann.

How did you first become interested in your topic?

I first became interested in modelling during my MSc in Epidemiology at LSHTM. It was a different set of skills that I was really interested in expanding. Throughout my career, I have come across a lot of research that models and evaluates the impact of vaccines and this really peaked my interest. My career prior to the PhD was in field epidemiology, so the PhD was a chance to really delve into a field I was really interested in but never had the chance to explore in greater depth.

Describe your career journey so far

I am a field epidemiologist and before my PhD I worked at Public Health England (PHE) for six years. I worked on infectious disease outbreak investigations throughout this time, as well as various specialist roles including TB cluster investigation, HIV/STI surveillance and viral hepatitis.

I completed the two year Field Epidemiology Training Programme (FETP) - I really recommend it. Through FETP I got more experience and training in investigating outbreaks, carrying out infectious disease surveillance, and conducting research. The programme was affiliated with the European Program for Intervention Epidemiology Training (EPIET) so I also go to learn from epidemiologists across Europe with different perspectives and experience. I was based in Nottingham and also worked on a project at the WHO Collaborating Centre for Pandemic Influenza and Research at the University of Nottingham.

I have also been a reservist epidemiologist for the UK-Public Health Rapid Support team (UK-PHRST) for five years. With UK-PHRST, I deployed to Sierra Leone and worked with the Ministry of Health there following a landslide incident in 2017. I also worked with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control on a national outbreak of Lassa fever in 2019.

Just prior to starting my PhD, I was working at PHE’s London Field Epidemiology Service when the COVID-19 pandemic started. My primary roles were implementing the analytical pipelines for contact tracing data and analysing the data coming from NHS Test and Trace. It was a high-pressure environment to say the least, but rewarding too. I started the PhD in September 2020, and it was obviously quite a shift from what I was working on, but was the time and space I was looking for to learn new skills.

What are your goals for the future?

In the short term, I really want to make the most of the time I’m afforded for the PhD to go in to as much depth as possible for my projects. I don’t think I will be getting time like this again for the rest of my career to invest in learning new techniques and methods.

Following the PhD, I’m still exploring how to balance academic research and applied epidemiology, I will have hopefully found the answer by the end of the PhD (or at least a hint)!

What’s your favourite thing about working at LSHTM?

The countless seminars. Whether it’s PhD students, research fellows or more senior academics - everything that everyone works on is so interesting! And the school hosts a lot of external speakers and so we’re very fortunate enough to get a lot of exposure to research from all around the world. I enjoy hearing and learning about new methods and all the different ways of approaching research questions.

Do you have any advice or tips for other early career researchers?

Attend as many seminars as you can!

How can people get in contact with you?


Twitter: @hikaru_bolt

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