Research careers

Data science

So-called 'Big Data' comes from everywhere: social media posts, digital media, purchase transaction records. This data is recorded, stored and analysed to help improve services. 44 trillion gigabytes of data is expected to be created by 2020. Most organisations want their data analysed to improve their services, so this area of work is growing. This includes analysing organisations’ operations and systems.

Data scientists/analysts and Operational researchers manage, analyse, and interpret large datasets. They may identify problems for organisations that data analytics can help solve, collect structured and unstructured data, clean datasets, create and deploy models and algorithms to 'mine' the data, ie explore large data sets to identify patterns and relationships, and communicate findings using visualisation or other reporting techniques. Data scientists' work results in specific actions organisations or clients can take to achieve their aims.

Data scientists work across the public and private sectors. They often work in teams, communicating and collaborating with a wide range of other professionals according to the sector, organisation, and projects.

There has been a 212% increase in jobs relating to big data in a five year period. Many of these positions are hard to fill because not enough applicants have the skills required. If you do have the skills, you are likely to have little trouble getting a job. And, because these positions are hard to fill, the median salary for big data is £55,000 - very high compared to other information roles. In the UK there is a concentration of jobs in London and Cambridgeshire, but jobs can be found across the country.

Types of graduate roles

As well as Data Scientist/Analyst, this area of work may also be known as Information Management or Informatics, or Business Analytics. Roles vary according to their purpose. Data Analysts look for patterns and create reports from data sets. Meanwhile Data Engineers build data applications for their colleagues to use in their work and Developers give technical support. Operational Researchers use advanced analytical methods and mathematical modelling to assist with operational improvements, such as greater efficiency, better quality or service, or the potential implications of business or policy decisions. There are also roles with more client interaction, such as Consultants and Project Managers.

Related roles also include statisticians who design, collect, manage and analyse quantitative information to investigate a wide range of potential areas. They use mathematical techniques to do this, presenting their conclusions and recommending possible actions to address the topic concerned.

Entry points

Data and information analysts work across a wide range of industries including finance, retail, academia, IT, healthcare, engineering, travel & transport, management consultancies, market research, the public sector and more. There are posts for graduate analysts/scientists and IT staff via data science and IT graduate schemes, principally with large organisations, while the majority of openings are individual ‘direct entry’ jobs which can occur throughout the year.

Skills and experience required

For data science roles, many entry level applicants will have a computer sciences background, but any numerical/quantitative degree will be attractive to employers, due to the need for the ability to use statistical information. There are postgraduate courses in relevant areas and may be useful to develop knowledge of relevant technologies, but these are not essential for entry, as a degree in most subjects may be considered.

Knowledge of statistical methodology and specific technologies such as SQL and SPSS are important. Other programming skills eg R, SAS, Python, Java, Scala, C++ may also be helpful. Some employers may specify familiarity with a big data platform such as Hadoop.

For statisticians, a degree with a strong statistical or quantitative content is normally required.

General transferable skills which are valued include communication, curiosity, and the integrity to work with confidential data.

General computer science-related work experience can be useful before specialising in Big Data.

If you are a PhD graduate you will have a vast array of transferable skills, along with specialist skills and knowledge, meaning graduate training schemes provide suitable opportunities. They will also train you to apply your expertise in different roles and environments than you may have experienced as a researcher in higher education.

Job search strategies

You will need to think carefully about your job search criteria to help you find and manage information about jobs, and identify activities you should be doing online and in-person. Once you’ve worked out what you’d like the purpose of your data analytical work to be, and some key words, you can begin to set up job alerts. Career Connect via the Careers Service website is one of the first places to look for opportunities, but there are also specialist jobsites for different types of work (see the 'Useful websites' section at the end of this article).

Talking to people in Data Science can provide accurate up-to-date information to help you make decisions you can feel more confident about. Recruitment and information events when employers are on campus are advertised on Career Connect, while it’s also useful to compile a list of the organisations you are keen to work for and to check their websites for possible jobs.

Using LinkedIn in for research and network should also be a part of your overall job hunting strategy. If you haven’t got a LinkedIn profile and want help with developing a social media strategy to find jobs or to, see the advice on the Careers Service website.

Useful websites for further information
Business analyst (Prospects)
Responsibilities, salary and working conditions.
Data analyst (Prospects)
Includes types of data analyst, responsibilities and working conditions.
Data scientist (Prospects)
Job profile including responsibilities, working conditions, qualifications and salary.
Data scientist (Targetjobs)
Job description, key skills required, typical employers, qualifications and training.
Data scientist jobs
Mainly UK but includes some international vacancies.
GORS - Government Operational Research
Employs around 500 analysts, supporting policy-making, strategy and operations.
Browse data science vacancies.
Operational research - Civil Service
Civil Service scheme aimed at science and maths graduates, interested in finding solutions to government policy making and resolving complex management problems.
Operational Research Society
Includes a training learning and careers section.
Royal Statistical Society
Contains a careers section with job profiles, events and a jobs board.
See also

Related information in the following sectors:

Last updated: 30 Jan 2019