On Wednesday 12th October, The Data Lab team headed over to Edinburgh’s beautiful Summerhall multi-arts building to host this year’s Data Lab Academy Launch event – a happy coincidence that it fell on the same week as World Student Day?
Here’s what we got up to and what to expect for future events …
What is The Data Lab Academy?
With the demand for data science skills on a steep rise, we’re seeing a positive increase in the number of students taking up courses in the field. However, it’s no secret that it’s now taking more than just good academic and technical skills to get a foot on the first career rung.
Employers are looking for a broader range of soft skills: the ability to communicate well, real-world experience, and a good set of contacts. More often than not, you’ll also be required to demonstrate that you are innovative, ethical, and employable.
The Data Lab Academy supports these growing demands by offering:
- A programme of workshops
- Networking events
- A residential ‘Innovation’ challenge
All of these are designed with student pressures in mind, and they can be taken alongside academic studies in a way that doesn’t interrupt ongoing work. The Academy also allows participants to earn ‘digital badges’, providing evidence of their networking capabilities, employability, ethics, and innovation skills.
Alongside workshops and challenges, The Academy gives students the opportunity to apply for paid industrial placements. A recent survey showed two-thirds of employers look for graduates with relevant work experience because it helps them prepare for work and develop general business awareness (UCAS.com).
What to expect from a Data Lab Academy Launch event
The day kicked off with a quick welcome message from our Head of Skills, Heather Thomson, who introduced students to The Data Lab before passing the baton to Skills Coordinator Marian Dunbar. Marian took to the stage to lay out the day ahead and explain the key points of the programme and how it would support them in their studies.
Next, students were assigned small breakout groups and headed off to multiple points around this year’s venue to find out more and meet The Academy’s team members individually.
“Leading the breakout group and talking about TDL Academy Placement projects, it was great to hear from so many students who had a clear idea about the projects they’d like to tackle – and how they were already forging their own contacts and career networks to pursue them.”
LUNCH TIME gave everyone the opportunity to come together for a Class of 2022 photo (with the option to opt out, of course), before sitting down to listen to the day’s Keynote Scott Sherwood, VP of Engineering for data and analytics firm Kpler.
Four Data Lab Academy alumni were next on stage; Data Lab Business Development Officer and The Data Lab Academy Placements Programme Lead, Max Baczynski, took time out to chair an on-stage interview with past students and a member of the 2016/17 cohort (who is now a senior data scientist at Aggreko).
The panel graduates have all been working in their first roles since finishing the programme and a recurring theme was how important “soft” skills are for data professionals.
“Being able to communicate your ideas to non-data professionals, focussing on business impact, how to set expectations and even manage up are vital. Another example of why the TDL Academy programme is so important for students as they head off to life in data world!”
Whilst we love shouting about our network and the wider Scotland data scene, we couldn’t host an Academy event without introducing the student to some of our in-house talent. The Data Lab’s Principal Data Scientist Joanna McKenzie addressed this year’s cohort, discussing her experience, tips, and learning recommendations in her talk titled, ‘It’s not just about the data’.
Student networking with The Data Lab
Bingo anyone? Networking was a key goal for many on the day, but going into the event, we knew that conversations with a complete stranger can be quite intimidating for some. To get people into the swing of things, The Academy team distributed bingo cards that gave students interesting introductions, e.g. ‘find someone with the same favourite food as you’.
Meeting the big boss can sometimes seem a little nerve-wracking, but The Data Lab’s CEO Brian Hills snapped up his own bingo card and took to the room to meet the students, learn a bit about their goals, and talk about his own experiences in a relaxed one-to-one setting.
Before the day came to a close and the group settled into some (free!) drinks and light bites, The Data Lab Community Platform Manager, Paul McMillan, helped wrap up the day with a short introduction to our online Community space. Students are encouraged to sign-up and use the platform as a networking tool before The Academy Launch event, and Paul wanted to take this opportunity to highlight its features and reach.
Following on from The Data Lab Academy launch event
The drinks reception was a relaxed time for students to talk to different members of The Data Lab team and a few took the opportunity to discuss barriers they were having with unique project ideas.
One such student had an idea for a new AI-driven product, however, they were concerned that talking to people about it would open them up to the risk of idea theft. They were also unsure of how to get in touch with the right people at the right organisations (and where to begin building a strategy/putting the design into practice).
Following the event, these questions were posed to The Data Lab’s team, with same-day responses from eager team members – Project Manager Malcolm Price offered support around licensing and exploitation, whilst Head of Skills Heather provided an individual contact that specialised in bringing new ideas and breakthrough innovations to market.
“This is why we think our employability skills programme is such a great addition to the core MSc and Integrated Masters courses our students pursue, giving them the skills they need to go out and build their own career paths.”
A big thank you to all the students, alumni and speakers who joined us for the day – we can’t wait to see what everyone gets up to!
Did you know we can support you with scholarships? Take a look at The Data Lab Academy full scholarships and The Data Lab Academy Programme Scholarships.