Name: Neil Currie
Job Title: Lead Analyst
Organisation: Office for National Statistics
Number of years in current position: 5 months, but I have been in the Civil Service for 4.5 years and we are encouraged to move about.
Qualifications: BSc Mathematics from University of Strathclyde and MSc Operational Research and Applied Statistics from Cardiff University.
Briefly describe the organisation you work for
The ONS is the UK’s largest independent producer of official statistics and is the recognised national statistical institute. We are responsible for collecting and publishing statistics related to the economy, population, and society at national, regional and local levels. Currently we are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by publishing a wealth of data related to the virus itself and the impact on our society and economy. Additionally, we conduct the census in England and Wales every 10 years – this is currently ongoing.
Explain what you do on an average day at work
As a lead analyst, I oversee projects on different topics. Currently I am working on ‘levelling up’ which looks at social and economic inequalities in different places within the UK. Projects typically last between 3 months and a year and usually end in a publication. A typical day for me will involve meetings and coding to explore interesting data. There is lots of time for learning and I often attend training courses and interesting lectures.
What do you like most about your job?
I get to work on the most interesting problems facing the economy and society, have access to great tools to do my job and get real job satisfaction from seeing the impact of my work. It is a great feeling knowing that what I do helps people.
What stimulated your interest in maths, and when?
As far as I can remember I have always enjoyed maths. At school, I was generally quite academic but didn’t really apply myself in later years. But maths was always a class I looked forward too and did well in.
What influenced your career choice?
I left school and worked as a chef for a couple of years. I left this and did maths at university because I enjoyed it at school. I really enjoyed the statistics part of this so I did a masters degree in operational research and statistics. This was a great decision and I loved everything about this course. I still use lots of the stuff I learned in both my degrees at work.
Tell us more about your previous career – what prompted you to change direction? What advice would you give to people who are considering changing careers?
When I left school I was working part-time in a restaurant as a chef and decided to give that a go as I really enjoyed cooking and was good at it. But hospitality is a tough industry and I lost the passion for it after a couple of years. Without that, coupled with long, unsociable hours I applied for university. I had to give up a decent salary and a good position working in fine dining so going back to university was tough, but it was completely the right decision. Changing career can be tough but it is worth it. You can always go back if you really want to so go for it!
Which skills do you consider to be essential for your job?
All the maths, stats and coding skills that are vital can be learned. Coming in though, what is more important is enthusiasm for problem solving and the mathematical way of thinking you will get from a maths degree or other subjects like statistics, physics, engineering, computer science, data science or maybe economics.
Any advice you may have for other individuals considering your career path?
- Enjoy your education years but get organised and put the work in. I don’t think I really learned to apply myself until my masters and wish I had got my act together much earlier!
- Do other things outside of university if you can, to broaden your experience. This will make you more attractive to employers. Part-time jobs, volunteering or organising something are all great. Working with others, managing conflict, dealing with customers, improving the way things are done is all good experience regardless of context.
- Embrace failure – failure is never nice but don’t let it knock you back. Fail fast and learn from it. I have had plenty of failures and learned something from each of them.
- Ask for feedback – the difficult to hear stuff is the most valuable. Take it in your stride and learn from it.
- Look for and take opportunities, even if it is outside of your comfort zone
Your future career plans?
I am unsure really. Longer term I might move abroad because my partner is from outside the UK. Until then I am going to focus on taking roles that really interest me and align with my values and take it from there. When I was younger, I thought everyone in work had a big career plan, but most people are just taking it as it comes.