MSc Data Science for Politics & Policymaking Emma Wright, UK

Data Science for Politics & Policy-making student Emma WrightTell us a little bit about your background...
I’m originally from Edinburgh and studied my undergraduate degree in Politics with Quantitative Methods at The University of Edinburgh. When I started my undergraduate degree in 2016, originally just studying Politics, the Social Sciences department at Edinburgh were really highlighting their new Q-Step centre in partnership with the Nuffield Foundation. I was fascinated by the idea of applying statistical maths to social world problems, and so decided to transfer my degree to include Quantitative Methods and I fell in love with statistics!

What inspired you to study your course?
During my undergraduate degree, I did a work placement in my third year through the Q-Step department where I was an assistant statistician at the National Records of Scotland which is part of the Scottish Government. The National Records are a really cool organisation who complete Scotland’s census, and hold all the country’s records in things like births, deaths, marriages, and adoptions. It was the National Records of Scotland that were responsible, this summer, for the Covid-19 statistics. I was part of a recent team who worked on statistical promotion and analysis, and I spent my summer working on an infographic version of their yearly overview of how Scotland’s population was changing. It gave such a fascinating insight into demographic statistics, as well as how important statistics are for government policy and decision-making, so it just made sense for me to pursue an MSc in the exact thing I loved about my placement!

Why did you choose to continue studying for your MSc at the University of Strathclyde?
Having done my undergraduate degree at the University of Edinburgh, it made sense to me to choose a university that was outwith my hometown for a new challenge, as well as looking for somewhere with just as good a reputation as Edinburgh had offered. Strathclyde was an obvious choice. To me, Strathclyde really valued their Scottish (or home) students, when at times in Edinburgh I had felt marginalized as a Scottish student when the university was so international. There’s only ten people on my MSc degree programme, so Strathclyde has really made me feel like the MSc is collaborative and exciting. The MSc was also backed by The Data Lab Innovation Centre and I was lucky enough to be awarded one of their scholarships for the programme this year, meaning they covered almost all my tuition fees. This really motivated me to accept my offer on the MSc programme as it reassured me I was on the right path, and that other people thought I would succeed!

How have you adapted to online learning?
Online learning has been strange – I’m sure it has been for everyone so far! When I finished my under-graduate degree, there had been no teaching since in-person teaching ended in March so online lectures and seminars were brand new for me. At times, I wish there was a tutor looking over my shoulder – especially when I have to do some coding – but, lecturers, tutors, and really all the staff at Strathclyde have been working their hardest to give us top-quality teaching through our screens.

What have been the main challenges of studying your MSc, so far?
There is a lot of work for an MSc! It is definitely a step up work-wise from an undergraduate degree, and this has been particularly hard over online learning when you can’t just show up for help at a tutors door. Thankfully, all our tutors are so understanding and know that you have more than their class going on. This semester I also got called for High Court Jury Duty, and was picked, so taking a week out to sit on a trial was a massive challenge, but civic duty is important!

What specialist knowledge or professional skills do you hope to develop whilst studying your course?
I really hope to learn more about computer science. This course is a really good balance of Social Science and data and computer science, so I’m taking full advantage of what they’re teaching us. In my undergraduate degree, I learned to code in around 5 different programs, and in my MSc we are learning new programs to code in so I’m grateful to have more coding knowledge under my belt! I particularly like that the courses also highlight constraints of computer and data science, having a whole course specifically on the ethics and legal issues of computer science and information science will be unbelievably helpful in a workplace.

What are your ambitions for the future?
Going forward, I would love to finish my MSc and go back into working in the public sector as a statistician. I originally decided to study politics as I wanted to help people, and while statistics may seem like a strange way to fulfill that dream, government and policymaking really do depend on them. We are (luckily or unluckily) living through one of the most politically turbulent times, and so working in government will provide some of the most interesting and current topics to focus on.

What would be your advice for people considering applying for this course next year?
Don’t worry if you have little to know knowledge of data science or social sciences. We have people from all different undergraduate degree backgrounds. The tutors are helpful and as long as you put in the work and have a genuine interest in data science and policymaking, you’ll enjoy yourself. Having such a small degree programme is so beneficial – despite being online learning only, we really have become a friendship group who help each other as much as possible.

What do you think of the support available?
Strathclyde really are here to help. As someone who has only been a student here for 5/6 weeks, I have felt appreciated and listened to when I needed help. There is disability support, financial support available – particularly though we are online learning – and staff are always checking in over email. It’s cheesy – but even online, Strathclyde is a community.

Any final thoughts or words of wisdom?
I wish I had words of wisdom to give people! Enjoy your MSc and enjoy this everchanging field. Data science is still new and evolving, and at times your teachers are learning at the same time as you. Also, don’t be afraid to say you are struggling with coding – we all are at times!