In our ‘PhD Journeys’ series, we focus on the experiences of LSE alumni after their PhD – this blog explores the career trajectory of Joel Suss…
Joel is a Research Data Scientist at the Bank of England.
Starting his job hunt early, Joel began working at the Bank of England in July 2020 – a year before completing his PhD. Although writing job applications while studying was challenging, Joel describes the PhD process as being like an apprenticeship, preparing him with the skills to conduct rigorous research, organise himself and his work, and apply methods effectively. He enjoyed the second year of his PhD most, and securing the Bank of England post early in his final year meant that he had less distractions and a more resilient mindset to deal with the crises of confidence that accompanied the final stages of his PhD.
The route Joel chose is a formal PhD entry point to the Bank, a recruitment structure found in some organisations, but not many. This structure means you join with a cohort and enjoy a sense of community and socialisation, and the Bank also provided the time for Joel to finish his PhD. Nonetheless, on-boarding was hard due to Joel joining the Bank during the COVID-19 lockdown period.
A broad new field
Connecting his current role and organisation to his PhD experience, Joel sees Research Data Science as a broad new field that any quant qualified PhD graduate can do; the Research Data Scientist also an in-demand role, recruiting in many different sectors. Joel chose the Bank of England because of the organisation’s connections with his PhD topic which involved working on the consequences of inequality of income at local levels. This is transposed to macro level work at the Bank, where the key focus is policy. Already having skills in R and Python, Joel was quickly able to contribute to the work of the team he joined. Other valuable transferrable skills Joel developed through his PhD include decision making (which tools to use, when and why); project management (the PhD didn’t write itself); organisation (many different smaller tasks make up production of the PhD); communication (with different audiences via blogs and talks – he knows how to engage an audience, as well as the written thesis) and methods training through LSE courses in the Digital Skills Lab and Department of Methodology. In summary, Joel describes himself as a technocrat who’s able to communicate and enjoys working with other people. This combination of skills and qualities fits comfortably with his current position and Joel is feeling satisfied at work.
Keep learning new skills
Joel enjoys learning new skills on the job, especially because he is in an organisation that supports employee learning – this means there are many avenues, space and time for learning new skills. He is also finding out more about new topics, for example, regulation and other financial matters. Joel likes the balance of his work which is divided about 50:50 between research projects and the application of research into practice. He refers to online textbooks and remains a curious, active learner. Currently, he is in the office one day per week, a day filled with meetings, teamwork and social time; on the other four days, working more independently from home, he can make progress with his research topics, looking at data and creating models. This structure suits Joel, who wants to see his work making a difference and being applied in practice. The office days are a good opportunity to test his ideas with colleagues and persuade people to try them out.
Joel also maintains affiliations with LSE at the International Inequalities Institute (III) and the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE). While publishing in academic journals is still part of Joel’s focus, he is mainly concentrating on enjoying having impact through his work at the Bank. He speaks at professional and practitioner conferences (such as the AI in Finance Summit in March 2022) and finds ways to meet people from outside of his own employer. The balance he now has working from home suits him and he can switch off at the end of the day, knowing he has done enough. There is comfort in putting behind him the feeling of never having done as much as he should, always seeking the next publication, grant, or promotion that characterises life in academia. Further down the line, Joel can be promoted in the Bank, seek secondments and further opportunities in either the research track or more general management track, depending on his interests in the coming year or so. This room to manoeuvre is one of the things that attracted Joel to the scheme.
Give your credentials credibility
If digital and tech skills are not embedded in your PhD work, employers are also interested in the skills you gain through training, self-directed learning and your hobbies or side projects. Evidencing these on a personal webpage gives credibility to your credentials. All the time you are enrolled as a student at LSE, you can join a range of free courses to learn new skills – Joel recommends Intro to Quant Methods; Data Science and others at the Department of Methodology. Learning R and Python is also useful for data analysis, and programming languages can be learnt by those wanting to surmount coding challenges too. Books such as R for Data Science; Introduction to Statistical Learning; and Intro to Quant Methods have also helped Joel in his journey to a career in data science.
With thanks to all our contributors to the PhD Journeys series.
For more support with planning your next steps after your PhD, book an appointment with Catherine Reynolds.