Data students to provide boost to Scottish organisations as part of national placement drive

Gillian Docherty, CEO of The Data Lab
Gillian Docherty, CEO of The Data Lab

Data scientists are being placed in organisations across Scotland as part of a drive by The Data Lab to enable employers to harness the power of data and artificial intelligence across industries. 

Organisations will take on one full-time data MSc student for a three-month paid industrial placement, as part of The Data Lab’s MSc programme.

Every year across 11 universities in Scotland, up to 155 students undertaking an MSc in a data science related field can take part in the placement. Since launching in 2015, 416 students have been sponsored by The Data Lab, with 133 having completed placements at more than 76 organisations, spanning private, public and third sectors. This summer, nearly 100 students will be starting a placement before graduating from their MSc course.

The MSc programme has a number a number of goals:

  • To give all organisations, no matter what size and sector, access to data science expertise
  • Teaching practical problem solving and employability skills to MSc students in data science fields
  • Allowing students to build professional networks with industry
  • To retain data talent in Scotland and address the data science skills gap

As part of the drive, six companies are taking part at this year’s Innovation Week (3 – 5th June) – a three-day residential trip which allows organisations to challenge data experts to design data driven solutions to challenges facing them. MSc students and challenge owners work together in a rapid problem-solving based environment to apply data science to real business challenges. This year’s challenges include:

  • How might we accelerate energy transition in Europe’s power market?
  • How to address litter prevention in a popular tourist destination?
  • How can we reduce the stress on our water systems?
  • How can we encourage students to take part in active travel?

While one of the key drivers of the programme is for organisations to get a better understanding of how important data can be in influencing organisational decision making, for students, it gives them direct routes into the world of work, while also encouraging graduates to remain in Scotland, following the completion of their studies. 

Gillian Docherty, CEO at The Data Lab, said: “Innovation week has become larger every year and it’s fantastic to see so many organisations getting involved. It’s extremely important we’re able to facilitate knowledge transfer between those with skills in data, and industry.

“Innovation Week gives businesses the opportunity to understand how to begin looking at data as a tool to help solve challenges and gain more insight into their organisations. We’ve already seen some of the ideas coming out of the workshops from previous years being worked into long-term business strategies.

“From the students’ perspective, the MSc placement and Innovation Week act as direct links into employment, and the activities organised throughout the year teach them how to apply academic theory into a real business environment. Many of those who have undertaken the three-month placement, have since been employed full-time by the organisation they were placed in – demonstrating the real value employers see in having a data expert within their organisations.”

Looking at the key numbers, not including the most recent cohort (2018-2019), the number of students sponsored by The Data Lab is 261. Of that number, 133 have been placed in Scottish organisations, with at least 118 remaining in Scotland to work six months after graduation, and at least another eight going onto study PhDs.

With funding secured at least until 2022, The Data Lab aims to continue placing at least 100 students per year within Scottish organisations, while strengthening current relationships with organisational partners and forging links with new ones.

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