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MSc audience photo at event

The Data Lab MSc programme 2018/19 comes to a close!

Blog by Marian Dunbar, Skills Co-ordinator, The Data Lab

The Data Lab MSc2018/19 cohort came together for the last time at an event organised by MBN in the fabulous BaAD in Glasgow.  The event aimed to explore the many “Pathways” available to our soon to be alumni as they move from study into the workplace or further research.  We were so pleased to gather together so many supporters of our The Data Lab MSc programme including Ivan McKee, MSP and Minister for Innovation, our academic partners and the many Scottish organisations who have supported our students and graduates by offering paid industrial placements and jobs in the data industry in Scotland.  And of course our fantastic The Data Lab MSc students.

Robin Huggins, Director of Academy & Client Services, MBN Solutions, discharged his role as host with aplomb, driving us through a packed agenda and an impromptu and extended panel section.

Our MSc programme continues with Scottish Government funding secured

Ivan McKee opened the event by confirming the Scottish Government’s continued support for our programme with 155 scholarships for 2019/20 providing a pipeline of new talent to help make Scotland the Data Capital of Europe.  The Scottish Government is putting its weight behind our industry by securing the funding of The Data Lab as Scotland’s Innovation Centre for Data and AI well into the next decade.

My presentation was a celebration of the year – our students have enjoyed a carefully choreographed programme of events, training and networking opportunities to develop and build their skills and ease transition into the next stage of their career.  Students were reminded to join The Data Lab MSc Alumni Group  to access a growing body of data scientists at all stages of their career AND to access The Data Lab events, news and jobs. It was great to report that some of our students have already found data science jobs  at RBS, London and Edinburgh, Dounray Power Station Caithness, BarachD, Home Pointer and  Accenture.

Pathways: different routes to success

Glenn Exton, Director of Data, Digital and IT, Scottish Enterprise and Elizabeth Hollinger, Head of Analytics and BI, Aggreko gave insightful accounts of their pathways to their current data leadership roles.  Glenn’s route to his current position included 16 years in the Australian Navy and 19 years at Hewlett-Packard.  As well as great tips for starting out (check you understand the project, check your manager’s understanding of the project, seek out the business analysts)  he recommended that students be different; keep learning; be familiar with the UK Government Data Scientist:  skills they need ; and volunteer, give back through initiatives such as Data Kind.

Elizabeth’s pathway demonstrated how the love of learning she felt as a 4 year old (this was the best photo of the event) developed into a love of data through the study of maths and statistics and actuarial training at Aegon.  She continued to develop her analytics skills as her career progressed with Deloitte UK, leading analytics projects across the Public Sector.  She emphasised that it is this blend of business analytics and technical skills that is crucial for every data scientist.

Our event was all about exploring Pathways and so it was fantastic to hear from Professor Saleem Bhatti, School of Computer Science, University of St Andrews who talked about opportunities available to students who might wish to undertake further research.  He gave an overview of the EngD at St Andrews, which is offered in partnership with The Data Lab.   This is a doctoral research programme with a solid industry focus undertaken over 4 years.  Students, Scottish Universities and sponsors who may want to participate in the programme should keep an eye on The Data Lab industrial doctorates web page or contact Professor Saleem Bhatti.

Placing students with 84 companies for industrial placements

With 100 out of 155 of The Data Lab MSc 2018/19 cohort undertaking paid industrial placements over the summer, Bethany Rodgers-Rintoul, Delivery Lead MBN Academy, outlined how she and Rob Huggins had made this happen. Students had been employed by 84 companies in Scotland, the majority in Edinburgh (64) and Glasgow (35) and the rest across Scotland in a range of private, public and the voluntary sector.  She outlined the difficulties in making sure that the 128 project proposals received were turned into projects that met both academic and industry requirements.

This presentation demonstrated the HUGE effort from Bethany and Rob to match so many students to Scottish organisations.

Insights from our panel

Our panellists included Andrea Walker, Data Scientist CYBG (and 2017/18 The Data Lab MSc Alumnus;) Caroline Parkinson, Senior Team Lead, DDI programme University of Edinburgh; Liam Cavin, Statistician, The Scottish Government and Dave Oliver, Head of Performance Insights, RBS.  We heard that our panellists had arrived at their current positions through varied and interesting routes, in Caroline’s case through gymnastics, dancing, film and Creative Scotland, Liam through Forest Ecology and Dave through English Language and Linguistics.

The panel agreed that creativity is essential in data science, not just to ensure novel approaches to problem solving but also to tell the story of the problem and the approaches to resolving it. Perhaps we might see an MSc in Data Story Telling soon?  All agreed on the importance of developing data literacy – the more people understand about their own data, and data ethics issues, the more likely they will be to engage and make informed decisions about how their personal data could be used.  Reaching out to young people to inform them of the opportunities in the data industry, and ensuring that there was genuine diversity in the next generation of data scientists, was highlighted an unresolved concern.

And finally, the Project Award!

Before introducing the audience to the three students shortlisted for The Data Lab MSc 2018/29 Project Award, Joanna McKenzie, Data Scientist, The Data Lab, congratulated the whole cohort for their significant achievement in getting to the end stage of their MSc.  She wished them all the best as they transitioned from an academic world where the measures of performance were pass or fail to the humps and bumps of working life

The three short listed finalists Scott Dickie, Strathclyde University, Placement with STV;  Aleksandrs Tarasovs, Dundee University, Placement with the Mortgage Advice Bureau, Dundee; and Jack Tacchi, University of Glasgow, Placement with The Data Lab, presented their video entries.  Thanks also to Joanna Jawoska, Glasgow University and Calum McCormack, GCU both placed with Aggreko and MD Sazzadur Rhaman, GCU placement student with ReproCELL for their submissions.   You can view the short videos at the end of this blog.

And the winner was……… Aleksandrs Tarasovs.  Aleks won a ticket to Data Summit and vouchers for training from The Data Lab and one-to-one career coaching from MBN.

Bringing data science into schools

Heather Thomson, The Data Lab Skills Project Manager, wrapped up the event.  She was pleased to announce that The Data Lab’s Data Science for Schools went live on 28 August. The Data Lab is also supporting Daydream Believers a new resource bringing creative professionals and secondary school pupils together to help them develop essential skills such as creativity, critical thinking and problem solving.  We hope that these two new initiatives will encourage a much greater gender and diversity balance in the data science workforce of the future.

She thanked everyone involved in the event, speakers, students, course leaders and placement hosts for their time and warm support of The Data Lab MSc programme.  And of course a special thanks to Rob, Michael and Bethany from MBN for creating such a fantastic and informative networking event.  She concluded by inviting our partners to a series of The Data Lab Partner Events in November/December at our 4 city hubs where we will outline our programme plans for this and forthcoming years.

The Data Lab MSc 2018/19 has gone by so quickly and it’s been great to meet you all.  Good luck and keep in touch!

Marian Dunbar
Skills co-ordinator The Data Lab MSc Programme

Watch short videos from our top 3 students:

The winner Aleksandr Tarasovs:

Runner up Jack Tacchi:

Runner up Scott Dickie:


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