Meet Sarah TawsCaroline Laurenson
In the latest instalment of our blog series we interview Sarah Taws to find out more about how she got into Data Science, what it’s been like studying and working remotely, the things that you might find her doing outside of work and what advice she has for people interested in learning more about Data Science.
We’re really fortunate to have Sarah with us for the summer on placement. Sarah is doing some great work looking at how we best interpret and visualise the data within Kindspace so that people understand their wellbeing trends over time. She has shown a real down-to-earth approach to work and life and we hope that you enjoy getting to know her as much as we have.
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How did you get into Data Science?
It’s really odd to think about how I ended up doing a MSc in Health Data Science, and honestly part of me wants to say it was down to luck?
At school there was never really a discipline I favoured or was better at. I remember when it was time to start applying for university my advisor said, “you’re good at everything, you can be anything you want to be”. I know this was meant as a compliment, but I was totally lost, and really quite envious of everyone else who seemed to be so sure on what they wanted to do. My Dad advised me to do something I enjoyed, and with that I applied to study my favourite subject: History.
I accepted a place at the University of Aberdeen, where you have the opportunity to take courses outside of your degree, so I did everything from Archaeology to Psychology to Economics! It was through this that I found a love for Sociology (a subject that was not offered at my school) and made the decision to switch degrees in my second year. During my honours years I did a course on ‘Social Research Methods’ which introduced the practical analysis of a variety of data, using quantitative methods such as SPSS. This was a course that stuck with me as it is used in a way to understand and ‘capture’ the world we live in.
After I graduated, I knew I wanted to do a postgrad, but I wasn’t sure what direction to go in and I needed to save up some money. As I have recognised qualifications in jewellery, I took a full-time job in a boutique called ROX – Diamonds & Thrills, and dabbled in a part-time International Business Management MSc which I quickly realised wasn’t the direction I wanted to go in.
During lockdown it gave me the time (or maybe the push) to think about what I really wanted to do. I knew I was after a course that was data orientated, but I also wanted to feel as though I was helping people. That’s when I found the Health Data Science MSc and after emailing the course coordinator I applied and was very quickly accepted! I was also lucky enough to be offered a scholarship by The DataLab to cover the cost of my tuition fees.
Although it is the first year the University of Aberdeen has offered this degree, I have met so many great people and learned some valuable skills across disciplines such as health research, statistics and computing sciences. I really can’t wait to see the potential this area has for the future of healthcare.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I’m quite an active person, so you’ll normally find me doing anything that involves being out of the house. With lockdown I got back into hiking, and I always find it’s a nice way to escape reality for a while as you tend to have no phone service. My favourite place to hike is Tap o’ Noth Hillfort, it’s not that far from Bennachie yet quite unknown which means there are never that many people there. Actually, this weekend I went to Burn O’Vat for the first time which was really beautiful.
I also have a love/hate relationship with spinning. The first time I attended a spin class I had absolutely no idea what was going on, how to set the bike, nor was I able to sit down comfortably for about a week! Now I can say it’s something I really enjoy, and I go around 3-4 times a week. However, I still don’t know how to set the bike properly…
If you could go on holiday anywhere right now, where would it be and why?
Oh easy, Barbados.
About 10 years ago I went on a family holiday there and every second of it was just amazing – the people, the weather, and especially the food. We stayed at a hotel called ‘Turtle Beach’ and yes, baby turtles did hatch and go out to sea while we were there! I think one of the best days there was when we went out on a catamaran to go turtle and shipwreck snorkelling; although I did completely burn my back (how I didn’t think the sea would take off all my sunscreen I will never know!).
It’s also where my Dad and Step Mum got married, so it will always be somewhere that holds special memories for us all.
Are you a coffee or a tea person?
Coffee! I’m really not a functioning human being without my morning fix. To think, a couple years ago I absolutely hated the stuff!
There’s a really cute café called ‘Shelter Coffee’ just at the edge of campus where I go to grab my almond milk latte and take a walk through Seaton Park if the sun is out.
Do you have a favourite author, blogger or podcast?
With the amount of reading I’ve done throughout the years studying, I’d say I’ve been converted to a podcast kind of girl now. I find it a really good way to switch off and rest my eyes after being on my computer doing work all day.
I really enjoy TED Talks as there is such a variety of topics to choose from, usually lasting no more than 20 minutes each. I love that it is essentially a clearinghouse for sharing and spreading ideas from around the world, and I have learned a great deal about myself as well. It was actually this platform which helped me decide between Data Science and Health Data Science, specifically: Hans Rosling │ The Best Stats You’ve Ever Seen – not only is it very insightful, he is an incredible public speaker and pretty funny too.
Also, an old friend and work colleague of mine, Antonia, recently started her own podcast with her best friend Charlotte called ‘Muddling Through’. In this podcast they chat about everything from post lockdown anxieties to their worst adulting failures and everything in between, I’d definitely give it a listen if you’re after a good laugh!
Click here to find out more about the Muddling Through podcast.
What are your top tips for maintaining wellbeing?
I’d say my top tips for maintaining wellbeing are:
- Connect with Others.
- It can be hard to connect with others when we’re busy, stressed or feeling low. However, connecting with friends or family, whether that be online or in person, can stop you from feeling lonely and help you feel happier. Even when I just text a friend to talk about how I’m feeling, I notice how much my mood improves.
- Sleep Well.
- As a student used to late nights or all-nighters, this wasn’t one I gave much credit until recently. However, a good night’s sleep makes a remarkable difference to how we feel both physically and mentally, especially in terms of improved mood, productivity and concentration.
- Have You-Time.
- I think it’s really important to take time for yourself and do things that make you happy, whether that’s enjoying your favourite hobby or taking the time to relax. I feel more content and it can help control feelings of stress. Ask yourself, when was the last time you did something for yourself?
What has your experience been like studying and now working remotely?
I’m not really sure how to give a definitive answer on this.
On the one hand it has been really challenging as I’ve struggled to find the work-life balance being at home. I’ve also missed the social aspects and daily interactions that come with physically attending university/work, but thankfully I have managed to make some new friends (even with a poor WIFI connection!).
Conversely, studying and working remotely has given me the freedom to create my own schedule, take breaks when needed, and meet my deadlines and goals all from the comfort of my own home. I think it has shown that people don’t have to attend the typical office environment to be productive, and we can see this as many places are now implementing remote working into their policies.
What advice would you give to people wanting to get started in Data Science?
First, I’d recommend doing some research to see if Data Science is something you would actually enjoy. Maybe try out some online courses or speak to people within different disciplines. It’s a very large field, with many job opportunities and routes available, so it might just be finding the right niche for you. Then, I’d just go for it. Yes, data is messy and it can be overwhelming at times, but I promise you will get there if you keep trying.
Data science is a hugely wide discipline. It’s great to see more specialist courses being developed particularly in Health and Medicine to support innovation in these areas. I think what Sarah shows is that you can come from any background and don’t necessarily need to be very techy and in fact having previous experience in other areas is really beneficial for your approach to learning and problem solving.