Alumni

Alumni profile - Elena Pedrini

My academic path has been heavily focused on statistics, data analytics and machine learning as well as programming, and what I do in my job is basically all of this. I feel very lucky that I have found job opportunities in the field that I’m passionate about and that I’ve studied many years for.

(Big Data Science MSc, 2019)

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I understand you were an international student - why did you choose to study MSc Big Data Science at Queen Mary?

I moved to London for an internship in the summer of 2017, right after my bachelor’s degree in statistics and information management in Milan, and then got an offer to stay in the same company where I did my internship as a junior data engineer. However, in that moment I also really wanted to continue my studies in the Data Science area, so I decided to try the life of the working student and started searching for a part time MSc course in London.

I read about the very good reputation of Queen Mary in scientific subjects, discovered that it offers several courses on the topics I am most passionate and curious about and learned about the flexibility of its enrollment process. Hence, in October 2017 I started my 2-year part time Big Data Science MSc at Queen Mary.

Which modules did you most enjoy and did any academics have a strong influence on shaping your time and studies here?

There was the part more closely related to computer science which I found particularly exciting, more specifically the big data processing and cloud computing courses. The professor was very good and his classes were engaging; the material shared with us and the hands-on practice done in labs were curated and properly organised. I was already discovering a genuine excitement about data engineering at my job, but with these modules the excitement turned into a genuine interest. I’m even considering enrolling at some point in another Masters or a course of some kind related to computer science, software engineering or data engineering.

Were you a member of any societies or volunteering groups during your time at Queen Mary? If so which and what did you gain from them?

Actually no, but I’ve been recently interviewed by the Queen Mary Data Science society. I think this society is a great initiative which unfortunately only started after my graduation, and an opportunity for students who share similar enthusiasm for the field to connect, organise workshops, talk about the coolest projects they have worked on or heard of, meet experts, have fun together and much more. I wish I could have become a member or even had the idea myself of organising the society while I was there.

Describe your career path since graduating including your current role.

After graduating from Queen Mary, I continued working in the same fintech startup where I did my 3-month summer internship, although my role evolved from a data engineer one to a broader mix of activities typically performed by a data engineer, data/BI analyst and data scientist. The data team was very small and we used to work on the entire data flow: from ETL pipelines that feed the enterprise data warehouse, data querying and analysis for daily and ad hoc reporting, to predictive modelling to improve the efficiency of internal processes as well as data visualisation through interactive dashboards to present results to the broader team.

In that period, I also had the chance to work as a teaching assistant in a data analytics course for professionals in Germany.

In May 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, I started a new job at Bain & Company as a Data Science senior associate. It’s been quite a unique experience so far, working remotely for several consecutive months without meeting my colleagues or seeing the office, but despite this, I’ve been feeling part of a great team and I have got to know the fantastic culture of this firm, all from behind a screen! The work I do now allows me to develop diversified soft and hard skills in several data science fields and it’s fun, motivating and exciting. We have also started to slowly go back to the office and to organise a few small in-person events, and I’m looking forward to living the full in-person experience in the coming months!

How did your degree prepare you for your current job role and are there any particular areas of your degree that you use in your day-to-day job?

My academic path has been heavily focused on statistics, data analytics and machine learning as well as programming, and what I do in my job is basically all of this. I feel very lucky that I have found job opportunities in the field that I’m passionate about and that I’ve studied many years for.

I moved to London for an internship in the summer of 2017, right after my bachelor’s degree in statistics and information management in Milan, and then got an offer to stay in the same company where I did my internship as a junior data engineer. I also really wanted to continue my studies in the Data Science area, so I decided to try the life of the working student and started searching for a part time MSc course in London.

How does this job allow you to explore your passions?

I feel grateful for the job I have and the firm I work for. I get the chance to work with fantastic teams on data science projects applied to several industries and types of clients, which makes the work very challenging and never boring or repetitive.

But there’s much more. I have been experimenting teaching in various forms for years, for instance private tutoring, mentoring, teaching in study trips, and it’s always been something I’ve genuinely enjoyed. I particularly find it rewarding to share my knowledge, expertise and enthusiasm around certain topics to other people and support them in achieving their goals.

Outside of work, what are you most passionate about and what do you do to unwind?

As mentioned above, I love teaching, in its various forms and in different domains. I have had the opportunity to teach, support and tutor in the fields of statistics, programming and data analytics to students and professionals, but also English to young Italian students in study trips where I attended as an activity leader too. These were such great experiences for me, where I could get fully involved and build special memories with the rest of the groups that I still cherish.

Lately, I’ve also been discovering a strong interest of mine in the environmental and sustainability discussions that are so relevant in the world today, in particular food sustainability and the technological innovations in place. I believe this is something I may dedicate more and more time to going forward.

Finally, I love dancing, which has been the only sport I have ever practiced, though in my defence, I can say that I’ve actively practiced it for more than 17 years! So far I have done mostly ballet and modern contemporary jazz, but I’m planning to start again with some more courses here in London.

What are your career plans for the future?

This is quite a hard question, as I’m still very unsure about where I want my career path to head. I am proud and happy of my accomplishments as a data scientist so far and I enjoy what I do very much, but there are a few things I would still like to explore before specialising in a specific area; certain technical skills that I would like to develop; industries I am curious about, and also activities or experiences that I love and I enjoy doing but that I haven’t figured out yet how to include in my main career plan.

For now, I will continue working in the data science field and at the same time aim to remain very open-minded in trying out the things I mentioned and acknowledge what I enjoy doing the most, what has the most positive impact on others and the environment and what I am particularly good at, shaping and refining step by step my path with time and more awareness.

Is there any advice you would give to current students or recent graduates considering their career options?

Try to be flexible and open to different types of opportunities, especially if you feel like you haven’t yet found what you want to do in the long term or what you want to specialise in. Be proactive in looking for work experiences and in dedicating time to side projects like reading, actively following blogs or podcasts, writing articles or publishing projects on your GitHub account or on your favourite community platform for example. Cultivate your passions and share them with other people; this will likely allow you to improve the size and quality of your professional network, grow your expertise in the fields you enjoy the most and also make you more attractive to recruiters.

More generally, what was it like studying and living in a different country and what advice would you give to prospective students thinking of studying in another country?

Leaving my country to move to the UK involved radical changes in all aspects of my life. Looking back at 4 years ago, I don’t think I was really ready to do that. First of all, it wasn’t something I planned, it just happened: I came initially for a 3-month internship in a company which then offered me the opportunity to stay longer. I think I underestimated the whole start-your-life-from-scratch part. But ultimately, it’s been an extremely intense experience which has transformed me as a person and made me grow and develop tremendously.

I took some time getting used to the new academic approach when I started my Master’s. I found profound differences in the teaching methods of universities in the UK compared to Italy, where I earned my Bachelor’s degree. I think that the Anglo-Saxon teaching approach envisages providing the overall context, the key concepts of the subject and some guidelines about how each concept relates to the others in the bigger picture. Then, it gives a great deal of autonomy to the students, who need to further deepen the subject and devote to the practical part, which in a data science course could translate into programming assignments and implementation of data analytics projects, for example.

For a student, knowing in advance the teaching differences with the country of origin can be very important to make a more informed choice, have a sense of what to expect, and to be able to take the best out of the new academic path.

This profile was conducted by Alumni Engagement Officer, Nicole Brownfield. If you would like to get in touch with Franck or engage him in your work, please contact Nicole at n.brownfield@qmul.ac.uk.