Data Science and Analytics MSc student Tom Pickard

Tom Pickard

Why did you decide to study a masters at the University of Leeds?

I did my undergraduate degree (in Maths) at Leeds almost 15 years ago now and have been living and working in Leeds ever since, so it was the natural choice when I wanted to undertake a Master’s as part of a change of career direction.

More importantly though, the Data Science programme covered the material I was most interested in and seemed to be well-structured. The University also has links to places like LIDA and the Turing Institute as well as good connections with local government and the NHS and great expertise in fields like Transport and Medicine – it’s a good place to be a Data Scientist.

It didn’t hurt that there’s a 10% bursary for alumni on the Master’s programme either!

What has been the best aspect of studying on your course and at the University so far and why?

The diversity of people involved in the course is great – I was worried I’d be the only mature student surrounded by 21-year-olds, and while I think I am the oldest person in the programme this year, there are a number of other people who’ve been working in analytics or other fields before coming back to uni. We’ve also got people from all over the world enrolled in the programme with a wide range of perspectives.

Tell us about some of the exciting projects you have been involved with.

The most exciting projects will be coming up next year, but so far my coursework has involved working with data about astronomy, serial killers, parking fines and Brexit; spell-checking Dracula, solving a hypothetical murder mystery and balancing toys on vegetables.

I’ve also been to seminars at LIDA (open to the public and worth attending if you’re in Leeds and interested in what they do) which have touched on financial regulations, biomedical statistics and agent-based modelling where the agent was Godzilla.

What does Leeds as a city have to offer students?

Leeds for me is the perfect-sized city – big enough to offer plenty of entertainment but compact enough that you don’t feel lost. It also has excellent transport links if you want to visit more touristy places (York is just up the road, Edinburgh and London are only a few hours away) without having to share the city with large numbers of tourists.

We also have great food across the spectrums of price and cuisine (Manjit’s Kitchen is an under-visited gem) and are surrounded by beautiful countryside.

What are your ambitions for the future?

My dream job after graduating would be doing Data Science in the Third Sector, working with a charity or one of Leeds’ fine educational, cultural and governmental institutions.

What have you learned on your course that you think will help you in your future career?

I’ve chosen modules which will help me specialise in interpreting free-format text and other tasks which are simple for humans but challenging for computers; there is lots of scope for these aspects of Data Science to help us extract meaning from the vast quantities of data which we capture these days and put it to good use.

What would you say to students coming to do the same course?

The programme covers many different aspects of Data Science, but there’s too many for any one person to explore them all. If you can, try to find an element or two which you can focus on in depth – that will help you to stand out in an increasingly crowded field given how the popularity of Data Science has grown in the last few years.

Get started with programming in your spare time – there are lots of excellent resources online, but the best thing you can do is to pick a subject which you’re passionate about, get hold of some relevant data and explore it.