Alison is an assistant statistician working for the Government Statistical Service (GSS) in the Department for International Development (DFID). She completed a degree in experimental psychology at the University of Bristol.
During my degree, I worked in a hotel bar to supplement my university fees. This gave me experience of personnel management, customer services, conflict management, expenses and stocktaking.
After university I started working as a temporary analyst for South Gloucestershire NHS Primary Care Trust and signed up for job alerts from a recruitment website. One of the jobs was as a statistical officer for the Ministry of Defence in Bath. Due to my wide range of experience, both academic and practical, I found I had the ideal skills for this post and I got the job.
Once I started at the Ministry of Defence, I was encouraged and supported by my line manager to apply for the GSS Fast Stream scheme, which took eight to nine months to complete, during which time I remained as a statistical officer in the department. I passed in October 2009 and have been an assistant statistician ever since. In May 2010, I was encouraged to move departments to gain greater experience, so I moved to the National Statistician’s Office in Newport and then to DFID in London in November 2011.
As a Fast Streamer, you are encouraged to seek out challenges and push yourself, so if you ever get to have a ‘typical day’, it sounds like you’re doing something wrong! However, typical tasks can include assisting other members of the department with statistical projects, compiling national and official statistics, answering freedom of information requests from the public, responding to parliamentary questions, training to keep skills up to date, compiling and giving presentations on areas of expertise to those in and out of the department, and, luckily for me, I sometimes get to visit some of the countries we work in to advise the country offices on a particular subject.
I started my career as a very technical person, using various statistical packages to analyse large datasets and compile reports or answer specific requests. I then moved to a more developmental role, taking something that was long established and seeing how it could be improved to benefit the user and the producer. From there, I moved to a role that gave me strategic oversight of the Government Statistical Service, which enabled me to get a larger view of how things worked and fitted together across government. I am now in a role that stretches me in terms of targets and projects, so I need to manage myself and those around me to meet tight deadlines for a variety of teams. I always take pride in my work and that’s so much easier to do when you love your job.
I learn something new every week. I get to travel and see the world. I work with people that are passionate about what they do, both in terms of international development and in terms of statistics, and when you share a passion with people, it’s very easy to work together to achieve something.
The challenging parts can be dealing with conflicting priorities and trying to balance them to get the best outcome for all involved. It can also be difficult being a technical expert, as you can sometimes be pigeon-holed into one type of work, and sometimes you may not get asked to be involved in projects, as others don’t understand what you do. As a Fast Streamer, you are encouraged to move job roles frequently to gain a broader experience. Whilst this can be very rewarding, it can also be very difficult, because as soon as you feel like you are an expert at something, it’s time to move posts and start again from the very beginning. It takes a lot of resilience.
You need to be flexible and willing to move not only job roles, but departments. Sometimes this may involve moving across the country to gain the greatest experience. Most of all, be open to new experiences.
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