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Meet the team: Dilisha

Black and White photograph of Dilisha Patel

Dilisha Patel

Social Researcher

Our “meet the team” series captures the stories and experiences of some of our wonderful colleagues at GDI Hub. We will be covering what led them into the disability innovation sector, their expertise and current projects, and any tips they can share for others wanting to pursue a career in a similar field.

In this third edition we spoke with Dilisha, GDI Hub’s Social Researcher who joined the team in February 2023 after finishing her PhD at the UCL Interaction Centre in Digital Health and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). Dilisha also has an MSc in Reproductive and Sexual Health Research from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).

A photograph of Dilisha, a woman with short dark hair wearing PhD graduation robes and a mortar board hat
Dilisha at her recent PhD graduation

We spoke to Dilisha about her academic and career journey to date, what she enjoys about her current work at GDI Hub and a new job opportunity to join her team as a Research Assistant in Gender and Disability Inclusion:

Hi Dilisha, why don’t we start by you telling us a bit about work and life pre-GDI Hub?

I did an MSc at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in reproductive and sexual health research. I have to say before then, I was quite naive about the state of the world and going to such a big global public health school, I was exposed to all kinds of things that were going on around the world in healthcare and women's Health and reproductive health specifically and it was from there that I developed this passion that I really wanted to work in global health in some way.

But as careers go, I started with voluntary work. I went to India for 3 months to carry out voluntary research with sex workers in the city slums, and whilst out there I met someone who worked at the Institute for Women's Health at UCL, so I supported the sexual and reproductive health research team, first as a voluntary researcher where I helped to recruit for studies and then I applied for a research assistant post to explore topics in women's health, preconception and Fertility. I learned so much about research here, but it was UK based, and I knew in the back of my head I wanted to work internationally in global populations.

From here, I followed an academic career pathway and wanted to do a PhD, but I took my time in figuring out exactly what I would focus on as it’s quite a big undertaking. I applied for a few different projects and was accepted at UCL Interaction Centre (UCLIC) to do a PhD in digital health. Everything in the world is now involved in some sort of technology ,so understanding how digital health tools can work in fertility care seemed like a natural progression. My PhD explored an underserved population of men, because in fertility – it's very much woman and heterosexual couple focused, and I wanted to do something a bit different. So, my PhD looked at how technology can support men when they have fertility difficulties. It is available online on the UCL library.

How did you come to work for GDI Hub?

I always knew about the GDI Hub through my PhD friends and colleagues who worked here and when I was job hunting, I came across the GDI Hub vacancy for a social justice researcher. As I read it, I thought, this is exactly what I want to do! It’s all about finding the right fit, and I feel like I have done that in this position.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I’m so excited to be bringing my expertise of gender and women’s health to disability research and work internationally, like I've always dreamed.

We have so much fun and have the flexibility to do research in meaningful ways. When I joined, I jumped straight into the England CCA project, and I could directly see the influence and impact that piece of work was going to have. I love that about GDI Hub, we can almost immediately see that real world impact of what we're doing.

I also think it goes without saying that it’s the people too, it's such an energised group of people that are very approachable and it’s very freeing. Everyone's very open with their time, their opinions, with everything. There is a culture of “its ok if you make a mistake, we're all learning it.” It an open collaborative space to work.

How have you been able to bring your expertise within sexual reproduction and health into GDI Hub?

So really excitingly we are now developing a new work stream of gender and disability inclusion and I'm one of the people leading that from my experience and expertise. It empowers me to know that I can bring something unique to the team and it makes me feel valuable to be able to do that. We are now working on projects with the UNFPA, which is UN agency for sexual reproductive health, very exciting and interesting times for GDI Hub.

Tell us more about these projects you are working on:

Currently, I’m working with the UNFPA in the Asia and Pacific region, where we are adapting existing outreach work they do in humanitarian crises and ensure that they’re inclusive and accessible for women and girls with disabilities.

Some populations can be hard to reach and are underprivileged due to numerous factors, and then trying to reach women and girls and specifically disabled women and girls, there are systemic vulnerability and exclusion, so ensuring that we're working with these populations is really important.

There is a role to join your team as a Research Assistant in Gender and Disability Inclusion. Tell us more!

The team would really benefit from someone that has motivation and fresh ideas in wanting to bring the two streams of gender and disability together. I think that's quite a unique skill set. So, it's okay if the person doesn’t have both of these expertise already, but definitely, the interest and motivation to want to bring these two together is important. We’re learning as well, it's work that GDI Hub hasn't done yet, so we want to understand the barriers and facilitators that influence gender and disability inclusion. The key is having someone that's motivated towards those aims. And obviously, research experience is great too.

Any tips for people that applying?

I think my advice would be, put yourself out there and apply if you think this is something you want to do. I mean the worst that's going to happen is that you're not successful, but you can learn from the process. Being able to articulate your experience, expertise and interests clearly will be helpful! Show your passion and skills and be clear how you fit the criteria.

And how about life outside of work?

Outside of work at GDI Hub I am a Trustee of a charity called CAREducation Trust. The charity works to remove obstacles for education for underprivileged children - we work across the Global South mainly in India and Africa. I’ve done some crazy fundraising activities for this charity, including driving auto-rickshaws across India and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

And beyond that – pre-pandemic and pre-child I was a big traveler - I enjoy just being out there and experiencing new things. I love skiing, and I’ve trekked a lot, including in Vietnam, India, Morrocco and New Zealand. Now since having my son, a lot of my time is spent with family, time with my son. It's him keeping me busy, me keeping him entertained and doing all the things that little kids love to do and travelling with him too!

With the way that we work now, it can be quite difficult to have a work life balance, especially when you're working hybrid at home. But I do try and make special efforts that my family get family time and we do things that are fun!

3 photographs side-by-side of Dilisha and her family enjoying time outdoors
Dilisha enjoying free time outside of work. From left to right: Dilisha photographed with her son in the snow, Dilisha and her husband in the sun in Ladakh, India, Dilisha and her husband on top of Mount Toubkal in the Atlas Mountains.