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Anita George traded her architecture career for a job in analytics. Why? Because data science offered exciting opportunities – and an innovative Scottish programme gave her the chance to pursue them.

A dark-haired woman in a blue and white dress standing with her daughter in a floral dress in front of a loch on the University of Stirling campus
Anita George and her daughter at Stirling University

Anita George planned to be an architect, but she changed her plans after discovering data science. These days, she’s analysing data instead of designing homes – a career change that she hasn’t regretted for a moment.

"There are such huge opportunities in data science across different sectors, whether it’s marketing, finance, healthcare, banking, with great potential for employment and growth for the economy,” says Anita, who is originally from Kerala in India. She came to Scotland to be with her husband Anthony Thomas, who works in IT.

Collecting data in a connected world

From the moment we wake up and check our smartphones, we’re generating data that can be captured and analysed. Businesses recognise the value of this data, and they need people who can make sense of it.

Companies across all industries can benefit from analysing data. The financial services sector uses data created by digital transactions to help predict future customer needs, services and markets. In agriculture, farmers are using data to make decisions about where to plant and when to harvest their crops. And in heathcare, data scientists use patient data to personalise treatment and improve care.

The healthcare field is where Anita uses her data skills today, after receiving an MSc in Data Science for Business from Stirling University.

When she moved to Scotland after working as an architect in India, Anita never imagined she would be crunching data related to cataracts patients for the National Health Service (NHS) Scotland. But like many recent MSc data science graduates, this mum of one isn’t looking back.

“Data science is constantly evolving and I’m evolving with it. My background in architecture was creative. I was imagining colours and designs, then suddenly it was spreadsheets and numbers.

“But the opportunities are so immense, I’ve never regretted it for a moment.”

Support from The Data Lab

Anita is just one of many success stories to come out of the MSc data science courses across 11 Scottish universities, which have been supported by The Data Lab. The Data Lab is one of the eight innovation centres funded by the Scottish Funding Council through the Innovation Centres programme.

It uses its £11.3m grant to help develop new data science opportunities across industry, the public sector and in universities. This investment is expected to return a minimum of 248 new jobs and an additional £104.5 million of value to the Scottish economy.

The Data Lab has been developing partnerships between data-led businesses and academia. This has led to university courses designed to create the next generation of skilled data science graduates. Over 500 students have benefitted from The Data Lab’s education programme, which includes the MSc, industrial doctorates and executive education programmes. 

One Scottish strength is the strong community we have. There are events for people to share and support each other – that’s a big part of it, learning from friends and colleagues.

Josh Ryan-Saha, programme manager & innovation consultant, The Data Lab

One of these courses is the MSc Data Science for Business at University of Stirling, which Anita joined. Run in partnership with SAS, a global leader in business analytics, and developed with financial services organisation HSBC, it includs a Data Lab scholarship and work placement.

“I wanted to learn a business-oriented course so that I could get employment in any industry, unlike architecture, which is a niche area with extremely specialised jobs and roles,” says Anita.

“I also wanted to learn technical skills rather than just business or management skills. MSc Data science for Business was the perfect blend.”

Her work placement was with the NHS Information Services Division, which is where she works today.

“It involved analysing data to optimise patient pathways for patients diagnosed with cataracts in Scotland,” she says.

“It was a real good work experience as I liaised with analysts, medical director, staff from the Scottish Government and once even travelled to Golden Jubilee National Hospital to interview a doctor to understand their perspectives.”

Josh Ryan-Saha, programme manager and innovation consultant at The Data Lab, says many MSc graduates like Anita move into well-paid jobs, often directly related to their work placements.

“Around 50% of the last cohort was in work just four weeks after graduation, while some of the remainder are involved in research in Scotland,” he says. “These are well paid, high value jobs.”

One recent graduate, Ross McLean, co-founded a student-focused data-driven app called Keedo while doing his MSc in Data Science at Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University.

As well as supporting MSc programmes and working with MBN Solutions, which finds work placements for the data science students, The Data Lab has recently announced funding for open online university courses. These courses will provide training in data science to students around the world.   

A strong data science community

“What Scotland needs to do is be the place that anyone who wants to be in data can learn it and anyone who wants to work in it can do so,” says Josh.

“One Scottish strength is the strong community we have. There are events for people to share and support each other – that’s a big part of it, learning from friends and colleagues.

“These online training courses in data science are relevant to sectors of the Scottish economy. So, for example, there’s data science for gaming at Dundee and health and social care at Strathclyde. That helps to project Scotland as a world leader in data science.

“If people across the world are taking University of Edinburgh, Strathclyde or Dundee online courses, they will associate Scotland with research rigour, which helps make the country more attractive.“

Market research consultants Optimat estimate that data solutions offer £17 billion of business benefits to the Scottish economy alone. And with 90% of all the data in the world created in the past two years, data specialists like Anita have a bright future ahead of them.

“Every day I see analysts who started like me and are now in very senior roles," Anita says.

"There is now a wide exposure for data skills, and with Data Lab and MBN running several events and hackthons, more and more people are getting to know about it. This sector has career prospects from now and into the future.”

Find out how we support data science in Scotland