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From PhD student to Data Scientist in two months: Roxana Alexandru

Last year, Roxana Alexandru made the leap from academia to industry by joining Faculty’s 20th Fellowship Programme. As our Fellowship continues into its 23rd cycle, Roxana shares her experience of the programme, her advice to prospective applicants, and how Faculty became her professional home. 

‘’A friend told me about the Fellowship programme. He thought that I would be suitable and so I applied for it during the last period of my PhD’’, says Roxana who has since become a full time data scientist at Faculty. Her transition from her PhD to employment at Faculty was organic given that her ‘host’ company, the company the Fellow gets paired with, was actually ‘’the government team at Faculty itself. The project was a workstream as part of a larger project at Faculty. It was nice to work on a real problem for a real project.’’

Roxana’s experience on a real project in a Faculty business unit prepared her for her biggest career leap yet. As she remarks, ‘’I only completed the project a few months ago, for Fellowship 20, and I joined Faculty as a full time data scientist one week later.’’ So just how did a PhD student become a full data scientist over the course of the Fellowship?

Technical skills meets business know-how

Embarking on the Fellowship gave Roxana the chance to take her skills out of academia and apply them to industry. As she says, ‘’I had never worked on a data science project in a commercial setting before. The Fellowship taught me how to relate my technical skills learnt through my PhD to data science work.’’ This was a big departure from Roxana’s PhD at Imperial College London in which she looked at signal and image processing across different topics. Her academic work took inspiration from the human brain to develop novel mathematical models to process images and videos more efficiently. Applying these academic skills to commercial data science meant learning new skills too. Her Fellowship included ‘’learning business acumen and presentations skills as well as personal courage to go for new projects.’’

The Fellowship is an opportunity for academics to learn more than just technical skills and business know-how; it’s a chance for personal development. As Roxana outlines, ‘’besides the technical skills, for me it was a good experience to learn the right attitude. I was a bit unsure at first about the project because it was different to my previous expertise’’ This initial doubt, however, set the path for one of the Fellowship’s greatest lessons for Roxana. Upon reflection, Roxana says that ‘’I think this hesitation was a mistake, I’ve learnt it’s important to have the courage and to be open minded to take on new projects and leave your comfort zone.’’

The learning curve around being willing to explore new opportunities is something Roxana continues to embrace.‘’It was a great confidence booster and when a niche project came up after the Fellowship I actually said yes straight away because I knew I could take on a new challenge.’’ Roxana attributes this confidence boost to her new skills and supportive peers; ‘’the Fellowship is about learning new skills, not only practising your current skills. My mentors provided a lot of support along the way, making sure I was relaxed and performed at my best.‘’

The Fellowship could kick-start your career

Roxana’s rapid turnaround from PhD academic to data scientist is testament to the possibilities of the Fellowship. She is eager to encourage others to make the jump. ‘’For someone thinking about applying, I would say definitely do so. When I applied, I wasn’t sure about a career in data science as I actually had the opportunity to stay in academia.’’ The reason for her decision to accept the job offer from Faculty was the result of her supportive experience. ‘’It was gradually during the Fellowship that I chose to stay at Faculty as the atmosphere of the company and the people involved were amazing.’’

The Fellowship is an intense programme and, as Roxana says, ‘’you need to be focussed and hard-working.’’ Roxana highlights that ‘’the general consensus is that this is the best Fellowship, especially because of the prestige of Faculty and the customers they work with.’’

That’s not to say it isn’t fun though. The regular pizza and beer sessions for fellows and the chance to meet like minded peers creates great friendships. ‘’I’m best fitted here because of the company value and culture; it’s very academic and very entrepreneurial. The great mix of the two makes it very exciting.’’ Roxana’s advice for those ready to take the leap is simple: ‘’Be open minded. Whichever project you work on, you will definitely make you learn new skills and personally develop. It’s an exciting place to be.’’

About Faculty Fellowship

To learn more about our Fellowship programme, its history, and how to apply, visit our Fellowship webpage.

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