Opening our doors to future talent

What was your work experience like when you were 17? For many people, including myself, it was a week of admin, filing away papers and making tea. This summer, the ONS Data Science Campus faculty hosted two groups of students to engage them in a much more unique work experience and help them gain valuable workplace skills.

Opportunities for A-level students

In July 2022, we hosted two A-level students for work experience; it was the week where temperatures hit 40 degrees Celsius in the UK, so this was a challenge in itself! We were keen to involve the students as much as possible with our work in the faculty, to give them an idea of what we get up to daily.

One thing on our to-do list was to explore Google Data Studio as an option for dashboarding. This would allow us to understand its capabilities and potentially deliver training on that topic for stakeholders within the Civil Service. Our interns had a go at exploring this tool by using the dataset from the recent experimental analysis on tracking the price of the lowest-cost grocery items in the UK.

By the end of the week, they had come up with an incredible interactive dashboard, which they presented to our team alongside the pros and cons they had discovered along the way. This gave us a well-rounded insight of how we could use Google Data Studio both as a dashboarding tool and to create bespoke training for this tool, based on existing training.

Following this successful pilot we are exploring what internship and placement opportunities we may be able to offer in future.

Mathematics within the Civil Service

Knowing that our interns were interested in studying Mathematics at university next year, we wanted to show how a degree in Mathematics can be useful in the Civil Service. During their time with us, we arranged opportunities for them to talk to colleagues from around the ONS about how their maths degrees had helped their career, both in and out of the Civil Service. This was particularly useful to the students, as it enabled them to understand the applications of maths and statistics to careers.

One of the students said: “I really enjoyed my time at the Campus. Not only were the staff extremely welcoming and friendly, but I got an insight into the kind of work I might pursue in my future. We were able to look around the office, and we spent time at Newport and London, which was very interesting as it showed some variation of workspaces and environments. I felt really supported throughout the week by the Data Science Campus, and they were extremely helpful and informative with whatever questions I had. They also took a strong interest in my university/career plans and set up meetings with experienced people who really helped me with my uni decisions.”.

Nuffield and the ONS

Nuffield Research Placements are funded by the Nuffield Foundation and delivered by STEM Learning. They are engaging, hands-on research projects, where Year 12 students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds can make a meaningful contribution towards the work of a host organisation, while at the same time developing subject understanding, research and quantitative skills to expand career projects, as well as learning more about higher education and different career paths.

This year, two students were allocated to the ONS Data Development Unit (DDU), and two were allocated to us in the Campus, with interests ranging from studying chemistry, economics, computer science and medicine at university.

During the three-week long placement in August, the interns were required to undertake a research project with a question set by us. The projects involved producing a report, a research poster and a presentation detailing the findings from their research and datasets used during their time with us. The Campus interns used the current cost of living discussion as the theme for their research; one student focused on the rising cost of groceries, and the other explored recent energy prices.

We also organised talks from colleagues across the ONS, giving the students a chance to develop their skills in research, communicating statistics, presenting data and analysis, and much more. We provided Python training to enable our interns to learn basic data analysis skills through coding and develop visualisations with the data they were given.

“I had little knowledge of the ONS and its importance within data science prior to the placement. However, this placement has showed me the important role the ONS has in analysing different statistical data for the government and the greater public.”, said one of our Nuffield students. She also agreed that the placement had helped her understand more about her chosen career, saying “it has made me think more about exploring the research element within medicine.”

This experience has also been vital for the development of our own faculty’s trainee data science lecturers. Jake Marshall, who ran the Campus placement with me, said:

“It was a privilege to be able to supervise and manage interns for the Nuffield Research Programme this summer. It was an excellent opportunity to not only gain experience mentoring and managing, but also to showcase the fascinating world of data science in government to AS-level students. I found teaching them some data analysis skills in Python to be the most successful, with both interns engaging fully with the workbooks created. This was very rewarding for my progression as well, allowing me to try out different methods of teaching and delivery.”

Looking ahead

We are hoping to host at least 10 students from the Nuffield Research Placements in 2023 across the ONS. We are extremely grateful to have the opportunity to work on closing the gender gap in STEM – out of the six students from this year, four were female. Hopefully, next year and beyond we can keep this trend going and continue to improve on contributing to greater female representation in data science.

We are delighted to have sparked such an interest in both data science and the Civil Service. A huge thank you to Tom Dodkins, Jennifer Wright, Georgina Martin, Jake Marshall, Penny Holborn and Alison Adams for their support in these programmes over the summer.

If you would like more information about outreach opportunities, or you are a school interested in engaging with us, please contact the Data Science Campus faculty.