Case study

Data research scientist — Lucy Main

After graduating with an integrated Masters degree in physics from the University of Oxford, Lucy joined the Ordnance Survey (OS) graduate scheme where she works in product innovation, research and data science

How did you get onto the OS graduate scheme?

Having enjoyed working with environmental data during my Masters project, I was keen to continue developing technical skills in a professional context.

OS is a 'GovCo', a company with the government as its shareholder. It provides the public sector with geospatial data and expertise while also undertaking commercial activities. I thought this was an interesting compromise between the public and private sectors, offering an idea of what it's like to work in both and neither.

The application process itself was very simple. I submitted a CV and cover letter before subsequent rounds of assessments - some were held online to assess situational judgement and learning ability, and others during an in-person assessment day. The latter involved a competency-based interview and a group task, plus the chance to ask questions and learn more about the organisation.

What's a typical day like on the scheme?

This is something that changes through experience within a role. Some days are more focused on meetings, workshops and collaborative work, whereas on other days I'll mostly be manipulating data, writing code or reading papers independently.

The mix of technical and communication skills is something I enjoy, particularly when it comes to writing documentation, reports or presenting, when I can marry the two.

Learning is another common feature of my days, both as a graduate developing skills on the job and as a researcher looking into new techniques.

What do you enjoy most about the programme?

The opportunities to learn from the experienced and technically-skilled people around me. I don't have much of a geospatial background, so discovering how OS captures, derives, stores, analyses and serves geospatial data has been really instructive.

Being part of a cohort of graduates is also great, as we get exposure to other parts of the business even if they are in teams we don't work with on an everyday basis.

What are the challenges?

The complicated nature of what OS does was initially the most challenging part - there's a huge amount going on and a lot of it can be technically niche. Getting used to various acronyms and specialised language took some time. However, that equally makes it quite rewarding when concepts and projects start to make more and more sense, and when I can see how they fit into the bigger picture.

In what ways is your degree relevant?

Problem solving is possibly the most valuable transferable skill that comes from studying physics. The ability to take stock of the available information and choose a strategy to make progress on a problem is something to draw on in many diverse situations.

Approaching work with a scientific rigour has also been helpful, particularly in a research role where writing and reading technical documents, and communicating technical ideas, are required.

More specifically, elements of remote sensing and EM (electromagnetic) radiation that I studied at university are relevant to OS' data capture flowlines, while data analysis and Python experience from my Masters are directly applicable to the work I'm doing now.

Finally, having a solid mathematical foundation has enabled me to pick up the theory behind machine learning quickly and means I can read papers without being daunted by their mathematical content.

What have been your highlights so far?

Most of my work has focused on exploring the application of (deep) machine learning to 3D data. It was quite a learning curve to build up an understanding of both 3D and deep learning, so to get good feedback on the progress I've made is really rewarding.

I also had the opportunity to meet Princess Anne during a royal visit to mark the introduction of OS' Emergency Services Gazetteer, a software solution designed to help the emergency services share, integrate and match data. This was certainly something I didn't expect to happen in my first six months.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

I really enjoy that the role offers me a lot of scope to take my work in directions I find promising. People are very approachable and willing to explain their work, which has allowed me to explore potential avenues for the future and form connections across the business.

My main focus is on developing my skills - to have both a breadth and depth that will give me a range of options in the future, as I decide what does and doesn't work for me in a career.

In general, I'm most interested in a career using data and technology to solve problems and provide value, particularly if that requires a balance of analysis and working with others to produce those tangible outputs.

What three tips would you give to other graduates looking to enter this field?

  • Take opportunities as they present themselves, but also actively seek them out.
  • Be curious, ask questions and cultivate a willingness to learn.
  • Explore your interests - a real passion for data or the geospatial is something people at OS tend to have in common.

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