Case study

Postgraduate student — Fiona Christie

After a couple of years working as a data scientist, Fiona's passion for exploring how statistics can solve problems in society led her to pursue further study

How did you get your job?

Immediately after graduating I worked as a data science intern for FreeAgent, a tech company based in Edinburgh, and was subsequently offered a full-time role. I learned a lot in my time there about how to adopt a scientific approach to my work and apply statistics to solve business problems. The position helped me decide what I want from my future career, leading me to pursue a Masters.

How relevant was your undergraduate degree?

The two core requirements you will typically find for data scientist roles are an understanding of statistics and the ability to use software with statistical capabilities. My undergraduate degree equipped me with both of these tools.

However, my role at FreeAgent taught me about the scientific method - developing hypotheses and defining a clear set of questions and method to follow before embarking on any analysis. In my opinion, this is just as important.

What did you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoyed the breadth of problems I got to work on and the variety of people I worked with. Working as part of a small team, and for a relatively small (but growing) company, meant I was able to work with teams across all areas of the business. I found seeing my work be used a very rewarding experience.

I also found applying statistical methods I'd learned during my undergraduate degree to new and unfamiliar domains a positive challenge.

What were the challenges?

My biggest challenge was in trusting my own knowledge and experience. Even in an incredibly open and supportive environment I found it difficult at first to voice my opinions. However, with experience this became easier as I realised that I did actually know what I was talking about and that others in the business valued my opinion.

What are you studying now?

After two years at FreeAgent, I decided to apply for a Masters in statistics at LSE. I made this move because I'm interested in how statistics can be used in social sciences to the benefit of wider society, and I wanted to drive my career in a direction that would allow me to undertake research in this area.

What do you enjoy most about your Masters?

I'm able to see how each class will be useful to me in the future, and that makes it much easier to put in the necessary hard work.

The two years between my degrees made me appreciate being a student again and I'm able to be selective about what I want to learn.

What career do you plan to go into?

I’m interested in undertaking academic research, hopefully in a field where I can use my statistical skills to make a positive impact on society.

How essential is what you're studying to getting your chosen job?

I'm currently applying for jobs and view my Masters as critical in terms of the vast amount of knowledge I've gained. Most academic research posts also expect you to be educated to at least Masters level.

What's your top tip for choosing a Masters degree?

Take your time! Don't feel the need to go straight into a postgraduate course after your undergraduate degree. Without my time as a data scientist I wouldn't be where I am now, and I'm glad I took the time to decide.

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