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Studying through a pandemic

Last Thursday was postgraduate results day at the University of Leeds, and although graduation is still a long way away (thanks to Covid-19 I haven’t even had my undergraduate graduation ceremony yet), it feels like a perfect time to reflect on this chapter of my life.

25th November 2021

Unsurprisingly, the past 14 months since I started my MSc in Data Science and Analytics have been far from normal; all lectures, practicals, group projects, exams and social events were conducted entirely online. This inevitably had its challenges, from trying to troubleshoot code with demonstrators via screen sharing to preparing presentations with peers that I’d never met and were sometimes in completely different time zones. On the other hand, short, pre-recorded lectures and the ability to go back and pause demonstrations to test things myself definitely made the course more accessible, which I appreciated having entered the course with a background in geography rather than maths, statistics or computing like most of my peers.

Since completing an industrial placement at Sainsbury’s during my undergraduate degree, I have always appreciated opportunities to combine my academic pursuits with an involvement in industry. From June to mid-September, this meant splitting my time between my research project and working part-time at Geolytix. My research project itself was a collaboration with HERE Technologies, utilising their road and public transport network data to evaluate the accessibility of COVID-19 vaccination sites in England. Obviously, this area of research was (and is) extremely topical, which made for an interesting summer of reading and data analysis. I was then invited to present my findings back to HERE Technologies as part of their GIS Day schedule, which was extremely rewarding.

In conclusion, if I were to be asked whether I would recommend balancing work and studying in this way, I wholeheartedly would if the person asking believed it was right for them. However, as Oli detailed in his blog on balancing the two, it is important to create a routine that helps maintain that balance. If any geographers out there are thinking about dabbling in data science and analytics, I would recommend checking out online resources or books on the topics that interest you first. Then, if you’re willing to make the commitment and think a more formal teaching style is for you, don’t be scared to step out of your comfort zone and look into the available data science (or geographic data science) courses that are out there.

Finally, would I recommend completing a Masters degree in a pandemic? Absolutely not! However, I think that universities and their academic staff can take a lot from this experience to help them design a more hybrid approach to teaching, that makes the content more accessible for everyone.

Catherine Duffy, Data Analyst at Geolytix

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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