Sophie Finnigan was completing her PhD at Imperial College London when she first became aware of Faculty’s Fellowship Programme. Her passion for problem solving and desire to work on real-world challenges prompted her to apply. Now, only a year later, she is a permanent member of Faculty’s government team. 

Sophie first heard about Faculty and the Fellowship programme through an email circulated at her university. The email advertised a talk hosted by Head of Fellowship Maria Diaz that introduced the Fellowship to students. As Sophie explains, “I signed up as soon as I saw Maria was hosting an intro talk for Faculty. I knew data science was something I might want to go into and, listening to Maria speak, I thought the Fellowship sounded like a great opportunity.”

From academia to industry

Sophie’s path into a data science career was spurred on by her love of problem solving; “I always knew that I didn’t want to go into academia – it was something I’d almost stumbled into. I came into my PhD because I enjoyed the research project at the end of my masters. Yet I never started my PhD thinking I wanted to work in academia. What I really enjoyed was the problem solving process.” 

The passion Sophie has for problem solving drew her to the challenges that working in the data science industry brings: “I wanted to move into a space where I would have different problems thrown at me, and be somewhere where I would make a fast impact and wanted to move away from grassroots research.” 

A career in data science, especially at Faculty, indeed means tackling real industrial problems and applying academic skills to reality. The prospect of using her problem solving skills on real-world challenges resonated with the talk Head of Fellowship Maria Diaz gave to Sophie at university. As Sophie says “The Fellowship ticked all the boxes of what I’d been looking for, it gave me confidence in my own ability to make that transition. I’d been in an educational setting right from primary school to the end of my PhD, and the Fellowship gave me the courage to try something new.”

Problem solving with real-world applications 

Fellowship projects are often with host companies across a range of industries, yet some Fellows work on internal Faculty projects. Sophie was allocated an internal project with the government business unit that was in conjunction with a law enforcement body. Sophie explains, “the project focused on the idea that the City of London area had been affected by Covid-19 like nowhere else in the UK, because of its uniquely high rate of visitors compared to few residents. We set out to see how it had been affected, and results were eye-opening. You could see that cycling had increased by around 100% from the previous year, while the tube use was around 50% of what it had been in 2019. On the back of these data sets, we tried to model what might happen if there was another covid spike.”

The chance to work with Faculty and the law enforcement team on the project meant that she could step out of academia. As Sophie outlines, the Fellowship is about more than just technical insight. ‘’The technical grounding it gives you is really useful but it also presents a more pragmatic approach with the projects. The Fellowship emphasised the practical use of data science that focused on delivering results in a short time frame. This is very different to the academic approach that you would find in a PhD; the Fellowship meant quick problem solving with real-world applications.” 

The chance to apply data science knowledge to the real world can also be personally rewarding, something Sophie has found at Faculty. “I’m fortunate to work in the government business unit and I think all of the projects are very impactful. To work alongside government departments and to feel like you’re making a difference has been very rewarding. The work is always so fascinating.”

Find out if the Fellowship is for you

Taking part in the Fellowship Programme provides a great opportunity to move from academia to industry, and Sophie is keen to encourage other ambitious problem-solvers to apply. As she highlights, “from personal experience, if you enjoy problem solving, looking at and analysing data, and you enjoy programming, then data science is for you. For the Fellowship, it’s right for you if you want a like minded community and you’re willing to embrace the collaborative and social aspect. There’s a big emphasis on presenting your work. It’s not just about working on a problem in a room somewhere, it’s very collaborative, it’s a social enterprise.”

The social enterprise aspect of the Fellowship can help you meet new friends and potentially future colleagues. When Sophie joined Faculty after completing the Fellowship, she found that several members of her Fellowship cohort had also joined full-time, “I already knew many of the new starters when I joined!”

To find out more about the Fellowship, click here.

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