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SFC’s Laura Hepburn reflects on Data Summit 2019, and what it’s been like to go from data intern to panel guest.

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By the numbersThis year saw the third instalment of Datafest – The Data Lab’s festival of all things data. Attended by over 4,000 people across 62 venues and 53 events, the festival finished with Data Summit, a two-day international conference with over 500 attendees. I had to get some statistics in there…

Hosted by Maggie Philbin, Data Summit featured a plethora of speakers who showcased what’s going on in the data world, along with some inspiring personal journeys and experiences. The event was attended by a whole range of professionals from the data and tech industries, across public, private and third sectors and academia.

I was looking forward to attending this event with some SFC colleagues, then, in the days before, was asked to participate in a panel discussion focused around data skills and the value of “adopting” a data science student to undertake a summer project. To be honest I didn’t quite anticipate just how immense an event it would be – it turns out I was on the same bill as the First Minister!

The panel consisted of me, Dr Kepa Mendibil the programme director of the MSc Data Science for Business at University of Stirling, the course I studied last year, as well as, Alan Stevenson from Volunteer Scotland, who, like our own Cathy Mitchell, supervised a Data Lab student last summer. We were joined by Pauline Houston, from TEDx Glasgow, who led the panel.

The discussion was really interesting; it was useful to get Alan’s opinion on how hosting a student brought new ideas and expertise, as well as extra resource to his team. It was comforting to learn the similar opportunities and limitations faced in expanding their data science capabilities. There was agreement across the panel and, from the in-sync nodding, the audience, that all involved with The Data Lab programme need to act as ambassadors to encourage other organisations to get involved too.   

The Data Lab MSc programme was, for me, much more than just another degree and I benefitted greatly from being placed with SFC for the summer. I wouldn’t have secured a job here, had I not had the real work experience in this industry.

By the numbersI was really keen to make it clear that giving students an opportunity to practice and showcase the technical and soft skills they have learned at university, in the workplace, instils confidence and self-belief in them – so that when they graduate they are equipped with skills, knowledge and workplace experience that make them sought after employees. I hope that I embodied what can be achieved from the summer project process.

The experience of participating in Data Summit is one I didn’t expect and will never forget. The positive and complimentary response afterwards has been quite overwhelming. The fact that our CEO described me as a data rockstar might have not done a lot for my street cred but it is really motivating that senior individuals internally and externally have taken time to reach out to me with their kind words.

I think attending and participating in such events is a great way to put the work of SFC, and specifically the analytical unit, in the public eye and I really hope that more of us get the opportunity to take part in these events going forward. In the meantime I hope I did us justice!