My career so far - specialising in working with data

Profile image of SMI alumni Rhiannon Denby
Rhiannon Denby
Data Analyst, Capita Employee Benefits
BA Applied Social Science with Sociology
Rhiannon graduated with a degree in BA Applied Social Science with Sociology in 2018 and has since gone on to complete a Masters degree and land her perfect role.

What has your career path been since finishing your SMI degree?

After finishing my SMI degree I decided I wanted to specialise in working with data, so I followed up my BA Applied Social Science with Sociology with an MSc in Data Science and began looking for a data-oriented role. I took my first graduate job as a Data Analyst at Capita to learn about working with data and SQL and am still happily working in the same role today.

Do you apply the skills you learned during your degree to your current role?

I work with quantitative data and use coding skills regularly in this role, the foundations of which I learned during the course of the quantitative analysis module using R. Communicating with people primarily through documents is also a part of this role, making the skills I learned when considering the potential interpretations of interview questions very useful in clarifying queries to external parties.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I work with data almost every day which is exactly what I was looking for and the job is so complex that after 8 months I am still learning something new almost every week.

What does a "typical" day usually look like?

A typical day looks like identifying the data requirements for the next migration project, detailing them in a data map and/or transforming the data to meet those requirements using SQL.

What’s the best piece of careers advice you’ve received?

Find a way to get some experience in what you want to do. For me, the SMI placement opportunity I took was a fantastic way to figure out what I wanted to do post-graduation and it also gave me solid experience to talk about in interviews. Any kind of experience e.g. a placement, student job, volunteering, independent non-academic project - will give you both confidence and an advantage in interviews.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in a similar role or industry?

Open-source data and free open-access courses teaching skills in analysis and visualisation are readily available on the internet. They won't teach you the valuable critical thinking skills or the other social science methods that the SMI will, but building on the coding skills you'll be taught and learning about additional concepts such as relational databases will give you a significant advantage when applying to entry-level data analyst roles.

What did you enjoy most about your SMI degree and what has been the most valuable thing you learnt?

My SMI degree taught me a lot about how differently people can frame, investigate and interpret the world around them, as well as how easy it can be for all of us to fall prey to unsound reasoning and analysis - even with proper training. I enjoyed learning about how to view the social world at different levels of analysis and this has been incredibly valuable in making some sense of the complicated world we live in.

Did you take part in any extra-curricular activities during your studies?

I had two placements during my time with the SMI, both of them working with the Widening Participation Research and Evaluation Unit at the University. I learned a lot about handling quantitative data and discovering trends in datasets while working there and talked about the experience often in interviews. I also had a part-time retail job throughout my studies, which although was not directly related to data analysis did help to demonstrate to interviewers that I could commit to a job for the long term.

What’s your fondest memory of being a student in Sheffield?

Learning about an interesting theory that's new to you during the day and then socialising with a fun society group in the evening is a perfect day, and as a student at the University of Sheffield I had plenty of those days. I hope I never forget them!

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Mae & Charlie are here to tell you more about Applied Social Sciences

Applied Social Sciences student Mae and alumnus Charlie will tell you what they enjoy most about the course, what skills they have learned and how it has helped develop their career.

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