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MSc Success Stories: Stuart Watt and SM Abdullah Ferdous at CNRI

MSc Success Stories: Stuart Watt and SM Abdullah Ferdous at CNRI

Stuart Watt, 26, and SM Abdullah Ferdous, 34, joined The Data Lab MSc programme in September 2019, undertaking an MSc in Data Science at Robert Gordon University, and an MSc in Artificial Intelligence at the University of Aberdeen, respectively.

In the summer of 2020, both students completed separate, 12-week remote placements with CNR International (CNRI), a subsidiary of Canadian Natural Resources, one of the largest independent crude oil and natural gas producers in the world. Find out more about their stories:


What made you decide to join The Data Lab MSc programme?


Whilst studying for my BSc Hons in Physics, I developed an interest in programming and data analysis, which led to my desire to pursue a further education in data science. I came across The Data Lab and its MSc programme whilst looking at potential sources of support for further study. A number of course descriptors even mentioned it as a potential avenue for funding support.

As such, when I applied for the MSc programmes which were previously supported by The Data Lab, I stated in my application documents that I wanted to be considered for the scholarship if it was running again for the upcoming academic year. Thankfully, I was successful in my funding application, and began my MSc in Data Science at Robert Gordon University in 2019.


I had recently completed a BSc Hons in Computer Science at Robert Gordon University, graduating with a first-class. During my time on the course, I became interested in considering further specialised study, and discovered The Data Lab’s MSc programme via the Aberdeen University website. I applied to study Artificial Intelligence at the University of Aberdeen through the programme and was successful – beginning my first semester in September 2019.


Tell us more about your placement


The Data Lab works with MBN Solutions to match student candidates with various placement opportunities. Through this process I came to meet with CNRI, who were hoping to develop interactive data visualisations for staff to better monitor its North Sea assets, aiding in the effective and efficient planning of offshore maintenance.

During my three-month placement, I spent time studying the specifics – the nature of the data being collected, the various types of components and damage mechanisms, understanding how risk is evaluated, and methods to determine how efficiently resources are being used to mitigate risk.

This allowed me to develop a process to select, cleanse, and transform integrity data into a format suitable for analysis and visualisation. After analysing the data, I created interactive visualisations to show trends and insights, and worked with the CNRI team to build on this, using their practical feedback.

The placement granted me an excellent opportunity to gain practical experience using tools such as R, SQL, Tableau, and various asset management software – something which helped boost my CV when it came to applying for jobs post-studying.

Initially, I had been concerned that working on the project remotely during the pandemic would result in a solitary experience with less guidance than would be typical.

If I could give any advice to future students undertaking placements remotely, it would be to ensure you find the time to ‘switch off’ and take breaks. It’s easy to blur the lines of distinction when you’re skipping the commute to the office, or university. Thankfully, both my industrial and academic supervisors, Toby Rider and Dr Stewart Massie, were excellent in their support and guidance.


My main focus was anomaly detection and forecasting, which meant looking into historical data from various assets to understand any irregularities, as well as trying to identify a pattern in the changing conditions of assets over the years.

This allowed me to apply various AI techniques to forecast the future condition of the asset, as well as developing an anomaly detection model using the existing data, to predict possible anomalies in the future. The goal of the project was to give CNRI an idea about what to expect in the short and long-term future, allowing them to plan accordingly.

I then developed a standalone dashboard application to visualise both the historical condition and the expected future condition of any given asset, so that the information could be viewed at a glance.

This full stack data science project not only gave me three months’ worth of practical experience in using programming tools such as Python, Jupyter Notebook, DASH, Heroku and more, it also showed how value can be added to the company, with the project being considered for a wider rollout across systems.

Working on the project remotely was challenging, but a great way to prepare me for what lay ahead – remote working was only newly brought into play when my placement began in May 2020, so everyone was in an adjustment period, but Toby and the wider CNRI team made the whole experience really pleasant.


Would you recommend The Data Lab MSc programme?


Absolutely. I was impressed at how present and engaging The Data Lab were during my studies. This was clear from attending events such as employability skills training and networking, but also from frequent communication via email and the Facebook group. I was also impressed and grateful at how hard MBN Solutions worked to secure so many student placements during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I would strongly recommend the MSc programme to anyone interested in studying how to get value from data, especially if you are interested in applying your skills in industry. Whether it is Data Science you are interested in, or Machine Learning, or something else!

The support towards studying and later achieving my MSc in Data Science was crucial in pursuing my aim of pursuing a career related to my interests. My placement with CNRI, thanks to incredible support from my supervisors, gave me invaluable experience in an industrial context, which was beneficial to both my CV and skill development, leading me to securing a full-time job post-graduation – I am now happy to be working as a Data Scientist at Mirador Analytics in the healthcare sector.


Yes – for me, it was an excellent experience. The Data Lab adapted with the changing Covid-19 situation rapidly and tried to extract as much as possible out of a very difficult situation. The benefits of this programme are huge, both financially and academically, with the courses on offer currently experiencing high market demand.

Personally, I would not have been in a position to undertake the MSc without the scholarship support, so The Data Lab made my career progression possible. Not only that, but there were also various types of support on offer beyond financial.

This is a complete package that includes a fully funded master’s programme and placement opportunity. The employability events alongside the study bring great benefit and there is a strong data lab alumni network to support you – each aspect designed to encourage your own development within the tech industry.

The programme prepared me very well for entering the job market by improving my employability skills – a number of employability workshops were held in conjunction with MBN Solutions, which I found very useful; and the placement experience is the crown jewel in your CV. It demonstrated to prospective employers my ability to use academic knowledge to solve real life problems. The experience I had with CNRI was priceless.

Despite the pandemic, I enjoyed multiple job offers before I had even officially graduated, and I am thrilled to now be working full-time in a career I love.


Toby Rider is Technical Integrity Team Leader at CNRI. He worked alongside both Stuart and Abdullah throughout their placements. Here’s what he has to say to prospective students:

This is the first year we worked in partnership with The Data Lab’s MSc programme, and I must say we were very impressed with the level of skill and analysis that both Abdullah and Stuart brought to the table.

I wanted to prove the capability of data science in improving our work and taking on student placements through the programme was the first step in a bigger step change towards embracing data more.

We have 40 years’ worth of data – a vast amount of information that wasn’t being utilised to its full capability – so we wanted students to help us visualise the information data was telling us, making it a powerful tool in our decision making moving forward.

Initially, I had been concerned that without a background in oil and gas, our placement students may not know how best to work with our data sets but if anything, it taught me a valuable lesson, demonstrating that data skills don’t need to be industry specific.  I had the industry knowledge to interpret the data they visualised, so working collaboratively is a huge part of it. I think it’s really important for organisations to realise this – I’m really impressed with their work.

Abdullah’s work on the inspection side of integrity management helped to successfully show how we can streamline our process, making it much more efficient. Stuart looked at defect management – how effectively this has been managed, and where there was room for improvement. He looked to identify inefficiencies and provided solutions on how to fix this.

While there is only so much that can be developed in a 12-week period, the work that both Stuart and Abdullah started can now be considered for wider integration across the business, with work being done to replicate their efforts across all systems.

Working with The Data Lab was straightforward and is something I’d certainly consider revisiting in future. If you work in a business that’s considering how best to utilise its data, I would definitely recommend this route. Through The Data Lab, we were given access to a level of expertise that we didn’t have, and with all students going through a selection process, we knew our placement students would bring a certain standard to their work, which certainly shone through.


Contact for more information and advice on how The Data Lab placement programme could inject some burgeoning data science talent into your organisation.

Organisations: Find out more about our short data science placements

Students – Find out more about our funded MSc Programme


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