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Catherine Reynolds

January 18th, 2020

Cracking into Data Science as a Social Scientist

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Catherine Reynolds

January 18th, 2020

Cracking into Data Science as a Social Scientist

0 comments

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Looking to transition into a tech career with an LSE PhD? In this guest blog LSE alumni Gokhan Ciflikli, International Relations LSE PhD 2018, now Senior Data Scientist at Attest shares his insights. 

The School offers extensive support for careers where quantitatively-inclined alumni have been historically exceptionally successful. The ever-growing tech industry is a field in which your numerical expertise will be regarded highly.

First and most importantly, don’t let misconceptions hold you back (aka the STEM degree fallacy) from applying. Many people associate successful tech careers with natural sciences and advanced degrees in fields such as physics or mathematics. While it is true that these disciplines are over-represented in the industry, social scientists also bring valuable skills to the table – especially with regards to data science. Matter of fact, I was told multiple times in my interviews that my background in social sciences was considered a plus – and the reasons given always emphasise the same perceived strength.

Ironically, an often-cited weakness of quantitative social science – that the statistical inferences cannot be trusted/replicated as the observational data on human behaviour is too messy/lacks nuance or granularity – is a reality that data scientists must face in their day-to-day jobs in most sectors. We simply lack deterministic systems that give natural sciences their precision. Instead, quantitative skills of social scientists are adapted to modelling probabilistic human behaviour; our research design skills and the level of comfort in how we deal with uncertainty are both much sought-after qualities in many industries.

When I was on the job market as a post-doc in software development at the Department of Methodology, I quickly found out that market research is one of those sectors in which a social scientist can excel and contribute greatly from the get-go. This shouldn’t be news of course, as the core of the sector is built on understanding and leveraging social tendencies.

After a short search, I accepted a senior data scientist position at a consumer growth platform called Attest. Our mission is to put data at the heart of every decision. Such a lofty goal demands both technical excellence and understanding of the social dynamics of the populations we study. Predicting human behaviour and forecasting complex decision patterns cannot be achieved by technical aptitude alone. Yet, at least.

The benefit of understanding the social is not only limited to technical aspects of the job. Working in cross-functional teams alongside software engineers, product managers, and designers, as a data scientist you need to navigate the social dynamics of your team and find ways to collaborate effectively to accomplish your goals. Although this is a far cry from what you would be used to in academia where individuals work alone in their offices, my anecdotal experience is that our training prepares us to do well in such settings.

Work with me – we advertise vacancies here and we’re now hiring data scientists!

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Catherine Reynolds

Posted In: Featured | Information and digital technology | LSE Careers | PhD

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