Ever since I was little I have had an intense interest in how the world works and how we can better understand the make-up of our planet. That partly explains why I chose to study Natural Sciences at Cambridge because I felt the course provides you with a huge breadth of different topics to study and investigate further in your first two years and then finally specialise in a scientific field in which you have developed a serious interest. I decided to specialise in Astrophysics because I found the course ticked off all my interests concerning space and how mankind can use physics to explain how the Universe works.
I graduated with a degree in Natural Sciences with a specialisation in Astrophysics which I was very proud of but being the curious soul I am, I decided I wanted a year or two of travelling before I settled into a career. I therefore travelled to Dubai and found a job tutoring with Carfax where I met graduates from many different specialisms and backgrounds all wanting to take a year off before entering a long-term career. Like many on a kind of year out I had quite a lot of time to do some thinking as to what I really wanted to do with my life. I also spoke with friends I graduated with who had gone straight into corporate careers and from what I could tell they weren’t overly enamoured by the 9 to 7 office grind and hours spent on Excel. Throughout my year I regularly looked into job opportunities for graduates in my field both in the UK and different areas of the world as I I have also lived in Germany and speak the language since there are many opportunities for science graduates in Germany. In all honesty I began to feel a bit stuck. I saw the types of career that were immediately open to me in my field. These were typically graduate jobs in banking or management consulting. Otherwise I could consider further study such as studying for a Phd. I was enjoying my life in Dubai and I didn’t really want to go back to working in a corporate environment where I wouldn’t really use my academic background that much but on the other hand I didn’t want to immediately do more studying.
And now the confession. Throughout my studies I had felt it somewhat and my feelings were confirmed from my years working in Dubai as a tutor. I no longer wanted to work in the field of Astro-Physics. This was initially difficult to process. I had spent years working on an academically demanding degree to decide this was no longer the career I moved in. How would I find work in the field I wanted to work in. The only thing I’m trained for is a career in Astrophysics! Of course, after I did some more thinking and talking with my friends and colleagues who were in similar situations of wanting to explore different career options that they felt they had no experience for I was I was not alone and above all, more than prepared to immerse myself in a new challenge in terms of career.
Data science is what really clenched it for me. Through my academic studies I realised the part of my studies I had enjoyed most was the analytical element of analysing large amounts of data and translating what at first seemed indecipherable mass of data into useful information that could be then used for a multitude of different things. Similarly, the skills I obtained through studying Astrophysics such as mathematical and statistical analysis as well as programming provided a sound platform for the rigour of a career in Data Science. What is more, Data Science is an incredibly lucrative career to get into for its own career development opportunities and the fact that the industry is expanding exponentially as AI and Machine Learning are used by more and more companies and governments.
I know what you may be thinking. Changing career is fine for you, you’re a Cambridge graduate with a good degree in Astro-Physics – you can do anything! Well, yes and no. It’s true having a good degree from a good University can go a long way but remember, you are one of thousands of graduates from a good university, what employers are looking for is not only your academic record, they also want to understand your journey into deciding why you have chosen this certain career and what steps you have taken to make this a reality. It was the above all the steps I took after I graduated that helped me land my career in data science.
I decided to fire off my CV for jobs in data science to a range of different companies. Unsurprisingly at first I didn’t receive much interest but I did land a few first stage interviews. How did they go? Badly. The people who were interviewing me were impressed by my academics but too often, other than demonstrating a desire to work as a data science I could not demonstrate my ability to work as a data scientist amongst a pool of candidates who had spent years working in the field. I spoke to a career’s advisor at Carfax who helped me devise a list of potential ways of gaining more experience in data science. I consequently developed a clear and professional portfolio which showed my skills in different programmes as well as my coding abilities. Whilst I was tutoring, I took free online courses to help get me up to date with the fundamentals of data programming platforms. I also completed a Nanodegree through an online learning platform. All of these materials were easily available online and mostly free. I would really recommend looking into online courses concerning boosting your skills and improving your portfolio as there are some great resources on offer and they can be studied anywhere. After a year I decided to reapply for data analyst positions and as well as learning more about the working world of data science I now had a portfolio and work experience to back my interest in data science up. The result? Many interviews!
You may also be thinking well that’s great, but you have a degree in an analytical subject. I have a totally unrelated degree to the career I want to get into. On the other hand you might have a STEM related degree but now want a career in architectural design for example. I have a friend who decided to become an artist after studying engineering! My advice would be to sit down with a close friend or career advisor, no matter what your age and figure out a way of entering whatever field it is you want to study. In many different careers there are often ways of entering your desired career field without a degree in a chosen field as long as you can demonstrate solid aptitude for your chosen career and most importantly the ability to do the job well. Getting work experience in the relevant fields and developing a portfolio, whether this is unpaid internships or working on your own project in your own time shows a lot of determination which will impress prospective employers. Taking foundation courses and top-up courses can also greatly help. Studying an A-level in a specific field related to your course in your own time also shows your dedication to your career. Computer Science, Business, Maths and Statistics A-levels all provide a solid foundation for the demands of a career in Data Science and the materials in these courses overlap well.
My biggest advice to anyone in the position of feeling lost or stuck regarding their current career, desired career or still not knowing what it is they want to do is to speak to someone
who can help you figure out what your real passion is and how this can translate into a career. I would also say don’t panic, there is always a way to enter a profession if you have the ability and can show a real interest for it. Carfax offers excellent career advice services which provide advice for entering certain careers and showing you how this is achievable.
Duc Vu MSci (Cantab)
Data Scientist & Systems Analyst