Starting a career in data - meeting report

On 17 March 2021, the RSS Merseyside Local Group hosted a event co-organised with the UK Data Service. The event was aimed at recent or soon-to-be graduates from any discipline interested in pursuing careers or further study in data science or statistics. The event took the form of a one-hour panel discussion with three speakers from diverse, non-statistical backgrounds who now have roles in academic or industry data science: Dr Kerry Parker, data scientist at The Very Group and co-founder of meetup group TechNomads; Fiona Pye, data analyst at WSP whose background is in geoscience; and Dr Liam Brierley, research fellow at the University of Liverpool, RSS statistical ambassador and Merseyside Local Group secretary. The event was chaired by Joseph Allen, research associate at the UK Data Service.

The panel discussion was broadcast live via the RSS Merseyside YouTube channel and is now available to watch. The event received 423 registrations from 115 different institutions, of which 54 were universities. The live broadcast received 210 total views, with a peak of 175 simultaneous viewers. 3% of live views were from those already subscribed to the YouTube channel. The audience submitted and voted on questions for the panel both ahead of and during the event, with high engagement within the live chat feature.

Questions opened with a broad discussion of how to approach starting in mathematics, statistics and programming, with the panel presenting views that starting with a focal project of interest is best rather than taking on large volumes of learning resources. The panel then gave their experiences with different programming languages (primarily R, Python, and SQL) and recommended methods for learning coding, including transitioning from GUI software to command line and using existing community code.

The panel then gave their views on differences in fields and terminology, eg, data science versus statistics, data science versus data analytics – acknowledging that this is still a highly subjective area. Related advice was given that job descriptions are much more useful than job titles, and graduates shouldn’t discount roles outside the term 'data scientist'. Finally, the panel discussed extracurricular activities that can enhance career prospects, including project and code visibility on the GitHub repository, engaging with online data science communities like Kaggle, and networking with local meetup groups.

Event feedback was very positive, with very high agreement that content was interesting (100% of respondents) and useful for work or studies (97% of respondents). Several attendees giving feedback suggested a longer or additional session would be useful, indicating an important demand for careers-focused events in future, particularly those that bridge statistics to data science industries.

The RSS Merseyside Local Group plans to announce another online meeting shortly to take place in the summer.

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