Uncovering career passion in data science

Yulia KimIt was the buzz of being able to help businesses make fast, data-driven decisions that led Yulia Kim into a career in data science, which has included a stint working at one of Silicon Valley’s largest tech giants. Now a Business Intelligence (BI) Analyst at GoCardless, she shares her advice for women considering a career in STEM, why it’s important to follow your passion and how her current employer supports her in “so many ways”.

After studying economics at university, Yulia wasn’t entirely sure what career path she wanted to take. But it was seeing how data could be used to make better business decisions that enticed her into a career in data analytics.

“While interning at Songkick, a live music directory, I remember the team showcasing what they’d worked on that week and someone shared some analysis they’d done on the marketing funnel, from which business decisions were made,” she recalls.

“I was impressed by how you could quickly spin up some data analysis and that led to tangible change in the business. I wanted to learn more! I said: ‘Teach me all the cool stuff you do with data’.”

The fork in the road

Focused on pursuing a career in data science, Yulia was recruited into her first professional analyst role by a private equity firm.

“It was a jack-of-all-trades role. One day I would be analysing the effectiveness of digital marketing campaigns, the next I’d be looking at call centre data to help with staffing decisions. It was quite versatile work, where I learnt a lot about Excel and SQL [the language for storing, manipulating and retrieving data in databases].”

Two years on, Yulia was poached by a previous manager for a Marketing Analyst role at a SaaS company for activity and participant management, but ended up in a Finance Analyst role.

It quickly became apparent that finance wasn’t Yulia’s passion and she knew she wanted to get back into a technical role. At the same time, Google approached her with an offer to join their team as a Finance Analyst.

“I was really torn by the decision because it was a trade-off between the company and the job,” says Yulia. She ultimately decided a job at Google, no matter the role, was too good an opportunity to turn down.

“I really enjoyed working at Google, but there was always a niggle in the back of my mind that I didn’t want to be a finance analyst, I wanted to be a technical analyst.”

Yulia’s 18 months there prompted much self-reflection, and she came to the conclusion that the most important thing in your career is that you’re fulfilled by the work you do.

Finding the right role

After Google, Yulia took some time out and created a spreadsheet of everything she wanted in her next role and company, what she was willing to compromise on and what she wasn’t. A couple of opportunities came along, but it was the BI Analyst role at GoCardless that she felt was the best fit.

GoCardless was at this really cool stage where it was scaling and becoming a teenager, as opposed to being a kid start-up on the fintech block – I liked that. I also liked that there were smart people and strong leadership who I could learn from.”

Yulia asked her networks for insight on what it was like to work at GoCardless, and she was pleasantly surprised by the resoundingly positive response she got, and she’s “never regretted for a moment” the decision to join the company.

GoCardless is such a values-driven organisation, says Yulia, with its values being: ‘Start with why, take pride, act with integrity and be humble’.

“There is a culture of trust and no-blame, and because of that you’re really encouraged to experiment and take calculated risks. We hire wisely and that has cultivated a strong diverse team,” she says.

“Diversity is something we genuinely believe in as a company, and that’s diversity of age, gender, ethnicity, race, the LGBTQ community, etc. There are a lot of formal and informal initiatives to encourage and support a more diverse and inclusive organisation.”

Yulia’s also been able to achieve the best work/life balance she’s had in her career to date, and makes the most of a number of GoCardless’s employee benefits such as their cycle to work scheme, learning and development fund, and volunteering days.

“It’s definitely one of the most flexible companies I’ve seen. Everyone has access to flexible working hours and remote working.”

Embracing the future

Plenty has changed in the two years Yulia’s been at GoCardless, with the business intelligence team growing from two to 10 people, and the business now over 400 employees globally.

She’s also recently stepped into a new managerial role for an incubator team and is excited about what the future holds – building a team, setting their direction and taking on a leadership position.

Currently adjusting to a world in coronavirus lockdown, Yulia is grateful to be working at GoCardless, with the business putting extra emphasis on keeping the culture and camaraderie alive.

“Everyone’s been really positive and taking it in their stride. There’s been some fun Slack channels set-up and it feels good to be part of a company that’s proactive about employee engagement during this time. There’s even yoga sessions being run remotely!”

A career in STEM? Do it!

Despite STEM being a male-dominated sector, Yulia encourages women considering a career in data or technology to go for it, with lots of benefits from working in STEM and plenty of support networks.

During her 10 years in the industry, Yulia hasn’t found her gender a barrier. But she does recommend researching the companies you’re interested in joining to ensure they offer a supportive environment.

“If you’re interviewing with a business, ask people in the company out for coffee to understand their experiences. If somebody isn’t willing to talk about these things, then there might be a reason. So just be curious.”

And curiosity is the number one skill you should have to be a successful data analyst, according to Yulia. “You need an innate desire to dig deep and keep asking questions from the data or people.

“Communication skills are also important, as you need the ability to tell the story, win over stakeholders and explain in simple terms something that can be quite complex. You also need to have a hunger to keep learning and improving, as the data science landscape and tools are always changing, which makes it exciting.”



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Talking menopause in the workplace

Natalie LeisterAs Chair of Southeastern’s Women in Rail Empowerment (WIRE) group, Natalie Leister has spearheaded an initiative to raise awareness of menopause symptoms and provide greater support for employees impacted. She discusses what has been implemented, her learnings and why it’s so important for other employers to follow suit.

Breaking the stigma

Nearly two-thirds of women in the workplace experiencing the menopause say it has a negative impact on their work, citing issues such as reduced concentration, increased stress, confusion and a lack of confidence. Yet only 5 percent of UK businesses have a dedicated menopause policy.

“Menopause has just been that taboo topic that nobody talks about – not even your Mum!” says Leister. “Your mother talks to you about going through puberty and childbirth, but not about this. Yet it’s a natural phase in a woman’s life – the conversation needs to be normalised.”

With more women increasingly going through the menopause during their working lives, the consequences of organisations shying away from the topic and not providing adequate support are proving more pronounced, she says.

“We want to be able to attract a diverse team. But if women experiencing the menopause aren’t able to access the right support in the workplace, they’re not going to apply or they might consider early retirement. It can be a real career killer.”

Starting the menopause conversation

When Southeastern’s WIRE group was formed in late-2018, one of the first issues raised was the menopause.

“I went out and spoke to staff and managers and was surprised to find a number of women and men suffering with this in silence. People were experiencing symptoms, struggling from a lack of knowledge, and it was impacting home lives and stress levels. I realised it was quite a big issue and something we needed to provide support on.”

In September 2019, Southeastern marked Menopause Awareness Month and National Inclusion Week by running a series of manager and colleague menopause awareness sessions, facilitated by Deborah Garlick from Henpicked, a network for women over 40. Each session explained the facts about menopause, and advised how to have sensitive conversations with employees experiencing symptoms.

“It was great to see the amount of people who attended the sessions. Everybody said they took something from it and many have said they now feel comfortable having that conversation with their manager, employee, doctor, husband, wife, colleague or friend.”

One Southeastern employee who benefited was On Board Manager Richard Cheesman, who attended a session with his wife Carol. He says: “I was one of those men who would step back and keep out of the way. I now know a lot more about why certain things happen, so I am more thoughtful about what I say. I’m also much more aware of the help that’s out there if needed – both at work and beyond.”

Cheesman’s wife Carol adds: “Richard now better understands what I’m going through. It’s great that Southeastern is talking about things like this.”

For Leister, after a full week of running awareness sessions, she went home feeling like she’d really made a difference.

“The positive engagement we got from the sessions was fantastic and it has created a snowball effect, shifting how the menopause is perceived within the company. To me, that’s a tale of success.”


Tips for creating a menopause-friendly workplace

Leister’s tips for implementing menopause awareness and support programs within the workplace are:

1. Be honest and open

“Not everyone will feel comfortable talking about the subject – acknowledge that. By being honest and open, you’re creating a safe environment to have the conversation.”

2. Position it as an awareness exercise

“Our managers aren’t doctors. All of our communications acknowledged that this was an awareness piece, we didn’t expect them to know the ins and outs of the subject. It was just about providing some knowledge and knowing how to start the conversation.”

3. Make sure there’s the follow up

“It’s important to keep the conversation going. Our awareness sessions were followed up by internal communications, toolkits for managers and a formal menopause policy, as well as providing desk fans, flexible working conditions and breathable uniforms. We’re also currently looking at online training. This not only helps people access information ongoing, but shows the business is really committed to this.”

Encouraging women into the railways

Leister has been in the rail industry for 10 years and loves that it’s a sector where you can truly make an impact, especially in her job as an Area Manager, in which she’s responsible for 42 train stations and 240 staff.

“I can really make a positive difference to somebody’s day. Particularly at Southeastern, you have a voice and are empowered to influence change and speak up with new ideas.”

It was this desire to make a difference that led her to become involved with the WIRE group, along with a sense of duty to promote the great career paths for women within the rail industry.

“I hear so many women say, ‘On no, I wouldn’t work for the railway, that’s a male job’ – that’s the mindset we want to change. This is a great company and industry to work for. We’ve got some fantastic, inspirational women in the railway. It’s a privilege to be able to champion them and encourage more women into the railways.”



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Need a career change? Here’s 6 steps to make it happen

Woman with laptopAre you ready for a career change? If so, you’re not alone. According to a London Business School study, half the UK workforce (47%) would like to move into a new career. But how do you turn this dream into action?

Whether your career goals have changed, your industry has been disrupted or you’re just feeling unfulfilled, here are six steps to help give your career a makeover:

1. Think about the why

The first step requires some self-reflection. Why do you want to change careers and what is it that you’re looking for from your next move? Maybe it’s a bigger challenge, better work/life balance or the ability to make more money. Be clear on what it is you do want and what you don’t want, as this will help shape where to from here.

2. Identify some alternative career options

If you know you want to change careers but are not sure what to, think about your interests, your passions and what drives you, and how this could translate into a profession. You can also seek the advice of family, friends or a career coach. Another option is to do a personality test to better understand careers you’d be best suited to – 16Personalities is a good free option.

3. Do your research

Once you’ve pinpointed some possible careers and industries, start to do some in-depth research to help determine whether it’s the right fit for you. Do some desk research (e.g. explore the UK government’s National Careers Service website, relevant industry body websites and available salary guides), read blog posts and reach out to people in the industry to share some real-world insight. It’s also a good idea to search job boards to determine how many opportunities are available and the types of businesses hiring.

4. Create a plan

Now that you’re committed to a career change, it’s time to map out how you’re going to make it happen. What skills do you need to acquire, what networks do you need to build and what people do you need to speak to? And be realistic with your plan’s timeframe – it might take a while to fully transition to a new career, but the sooner you take action the closer you’ll be.

5. Consider your transferable skills

While you might not have the desired experience on paper, you most likely have some transferable skills. This could be hard skills like budgeting, marketing and working with technology, or soft skills like customer service, written and verbal communication and organisational skills. And you might have learnt these on the job or from life experience such as being a parent. Understand how your skills could translate to a new industry and be prepared to connect the dots for an employer.

6. Bridge any skill gaps

Based on your current work experience and transferable skills, are there any gaps where you need to enhance your skill set, achieve a qualification, or brush up on some knowledge? You might fill these gaps through formal education and online learning courses, or look for some volunteering opportunities, which can help give you some on-the-job experience as well as a taste of the work first-hand. It might even be an option to develop some of the necessary skills within your current workplace. So, if you’re dreaming about a career change, it might be time to do something about it. And remember it’s never too late to make a change.



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Up your research game with these unorthodox resources

Original ideas and new avenues of research can be found in some of the more unorthodox locations, on and offline, so here is a guide to some of the more unusual resources available.

Whilst standard resources available in academic libraries are important and should always be the first port of call for any research project, chosen or assigned, there are several less common resources that are worth exploring. They may require extra time and diligence but can pay dividends and find references that might otherwise elude you.


Despite its reputation for dubious accuracy, in recent years Wikipedia has worked harder than most websites to give its entries a much stronger factual basis and each entry has references section which lists the basis for every assertion. Entries may also have a bibliography and external links. Wikipedia’s Reliable Sources guidelines mean that many of these links are to scholarly sources. So, as well as providing an overview of a subject in the main section, underneath will be a readymade list of most likely the standard texts on that subject or at least a starting point for further research using the more usual options. The entry for the Bernoulli differential equation, for example, provides both a reference to the mathematician’s original German publication and a more contemporary text which provides the underlying sources for the Wikipedia entry.

The Internet Archive

Begun in the mid-90s as a private attempt to keep a back-up of the entire world wide web, the Internet Archive has grown to become a massive resource of every kind of media. That includes instant access to rare journals and books, which may otherwise only be available through interlibrary loan, and which can be borrowed with an archive.org account. Keyword searches might also lead to unexpected results, and user uploads mean that long out of print science and computing magazines can be read in their entirety. The archive has an ambiguous approach to copyright, but most of the textual materials have been uploaded by academic and public libraries. The Wayback Machine also allows us to view the web as it has looked over the decades. Here’s how New Scientist looked back in 1997.

Local newspapers

Local Newspapers are usually available through the press databases subscribed to by your university or a public local history library, most likely on microfilm or in bound volumes. Many are also available through the Google News Archive, which features publications from around the world and in numerous languages. Useful as anecdotal colour for case histories, they could also offer historical background on a geographical area at a more localised level than found in more generalised materials.

Local history libraries

Local history libraries are also often a repository for local defunct institutions including factories and science related institutions as well as for major construction projects, which may include maps and blueprints. Most libraries will now have their resources searchable online but it’s often best to approach them by phone or email beforehand because they’re more like to know what’s available in their collection, perhaps something you may not have even considered.

Art UK

Resources which might seem to be a hundred and eighty degrees away from STEM disciplines should never be overlooked. Art UK contains records and photography for every public art collection in the country, which includes universities, hospitals and science museums. Visiting their collection pages and keyword searches reveal a trove of, for example, illustrations and paintings of vehicles, factories and hundreds of historical medical drawings. Perhaps of most use to those studying the history of science, this could also provide seasoning to the background section of an investigation into a more cutting-edge area. The Science Museum’s collection offers a good overview of the kinds of images you can expect to find.

Book Indexes

Of all these ideas, this requires the most time and a methodological approach and should be used only when other avenues have been exhausted. It’s certainly the most labour intensive. Perhaps with the aid of a Wikipedia article, create a list of keywords and then work through the relevant subject area in a library checking for them in the back indexes of each book, volume by volume, shelf by shelf. Depending on the topic, this can lead to items which might not otherwise look like they’d be useful through the synopsis or contents page pointing to a useful anecdote or new area of research.

By Stuart Ian Burns

Stuart Ian Burns is a writer and qualified librarian who works in academia.

Are you an accidental academic parent?

Would you say “no” to a student who “wants a chat” about how their course is going? Could you? Should you? What about the colleague who wants a coffee to get your opinion on how they are being managed? If you can’t say no to these, you may have accidentally become a ‘department parent’.

What is a department parent?

Academia runs on two types of labour: intellectual and emotional. Intellectual labour includes activities like research and supervising graduate students, and is rewarded with promotion and grants. Teaching is increasingly valued as intellectual labour, though still not rewarded sufficiently. Emotional labour – the managing of our own and other’s emotions in order that others are kept safe and happy – comes largely with teaching positions and administrative roles such as programme leader, course director, and personal tutor.

If everyone were taking on emotional labour service roles equally, they could be viewed as necessary citizenship. Unfortunately, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that women tend to disproportionately take on, or be assigned, emotional labour service roles. In so doing they become the ‘department parent’, taking excessive responsibility for students’ and colleagues’ wellbeing.

The cost of emotional labour

Some women choose to take on these roles either because they enjoy them or think that the extra work will contribute to promotion. But there can also be both conscious and unconscious bias at play on the part of those allocating roles. Certainly, students and colleagues appear to expect more “service” from female academics in both formal service roles and, more perniciously, the informal, unallocated and therefore unseen, pastoral and emotional support tasks.

The immediate price to be paid for doing more than your fair share of emotional labour can be an overwhelming workload, with research squeezed into evenings and weekends – which is unpalatable or indeed impossible for those with other commitments. Longer term, the gendered expectations can result in women getting stuck in these “parenting” roles. Whilst doing these roles well can be a route to promotion, getting stuck there tends not to be.

So, are you an ‘accidental academic parent’?

How much of the ‘stuff’ that you do day-to-day is recognised? Do you find it difficult to get research or teaching tasks done because of constant interruptions? The students in tears over an academic crisis that they “can’t talk to the lecturer about”, the colleagues who have just “had enough”. And it’s not always a crisis – arranging collections for colleagues going on maternity leave, organising birthday drinks or the end of year party often fall to female academics too.

If you are not sure just how much academic parenting you’re doing, keep a record of everything you do on the pastoral side for a week or two. Every email, phone call, and knock at the door. Then colour code the paid work that’s a part of your job and the additional work you either volunteered for or were asked to do by someone else. Which colour dominates?

Reducing academic parenting

If you recognise that you are taking on more than your fair share of emotional labour, here are a few tips for you to think about:

  1. Make sure you know the processes in place for common situations and where/how to refer people sensitively to different services across the University. You don’t have to solve every problem yourself, so make sure you know how to refer people on when appropriate.
  2. Have the phone number of key advisors to hand and use them. Don’t be afraid to have hypothetical conversations with counselling, student services or HR so that you can prepare yourself for specific situations. It will save you a lot of time if those problems come up.
  3. Put information in your email signature and your out of office response about other places people can get support – many students are simply unaware of what else is available.
  4. For allocated roles, insist on a fixed term appointment (up to three years) and a clear role description, including an estimate of the time commitment. This will help define boundaries, reduce creep and allow the roles to be included in workload models and allocation.
  5. Whilst there will be some occasions when people are in real distress that need to be dealt with immediately, practice saying “no” in different ways – for example “I can see that this is important for you, and I’d like to give it my full attention. To do that, I need to finish this piece of work first. Could we meet at time/place?”
  6. Stand up whilst talking if you want to keep the conversation short.
  7. Draw up an inclusive department-wide rota for making the tea and buying the gifts.

By Ellie Highwood

Ellie Highwood was formerly a Head of Department, Professor and Dean for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Reading. She is now a Leadership, Career and Life Coach at sendthemsoaring.co.uk.