April 29, 2021, by abrierley

My Data Science Placement at UCAS (University and Colleges Admissions Service)

By Dan Shelley, 2nd year BSc Economics student

During the first semester of my second year, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to undertake a placement as a data scientist at UCAS. I learnt of this placement through the Faculty of Social Sciences. This was a 10-week placement during which myself and one other student worked one 9-5 day a week. 

In terms of the application and interview process for the placement the managers at UCAS were surprisingly friendly. The application consisted of questions regarding your motivations to undertake the placement for that particular role and the company. The interview was one of the most interactive interviews I’ve ever had and I’d describe it more like a conversation however, they were particularly interested in your research of the company to highlight your enthusiasm for the placement.

The work undertaken at UCAS goes far beyond just an admissions service. Prior to attending the placement I saw UCAS as just a simple service whom connected students and universities but oh how wrong I was!. During my time on the placement, I listened to a weekly speaker, each from a different area of the business. Speaker’s work ranged from publishing reports regarding student’s changing choices and careers in national papers to scanning student’s website interactions regarding where their cursors were on the screen to see how to increase engagement.

The role was based on the data analysis team, for this we were given weekly and bi-weekly projects, for which we were given large amounts of data and asked to find any insights we could using R and other data analysis tools. One example of a project was to analyse the Potential Applicant Database. A database made up of potential university students and to see if there were any groups of students, by location, subject, sex etc who decided not to attend university for any reason or any cold spots in the data. With the generous help of the 2 buddies provided to us we were able to do this finding. For example, those students who initially preferred computing, only 20% studied computing whereas 80% continued to study Maths if it was their original preference. The work we produced was then studied and used by those in the business and this was great to see.

The placement was particularly enjoyable, working in a professional and productive environment has given me an excellent insight into the working world. I particularly enjoyed how we were given real-life projects rather than menial tasks. Whilst developing my professional skills, the placement also enabled me to drastically improve my coding skills particularly using the R code.

Whilst I managed to improve my coding skills this was certainly not an easy task. Before the placement, I struggled to teach myself coding with no particular task or focus in mind. The placement provided me with the task however it was far beyond my capabilities. Luckily, the people around me at UCAS were both diligent and very helpful enabling me to quickly improve my coding skills and allowing us more time to complete tasks when we were struggling. Overall, I have become a much more confident programmer and look forward to using this in my future job roles.

Overall, whilst this placement is certainly not one for the light-hearted looking for easy work, the heavier and more challenging environment enables much more skills growth. I would recommend those who are thinking about this placement are enthusiastic and not intimidated by big tasks and lots of data! Although you should also look forward to experiencing the friendly, family atmosphere within UCAS and making some excellent friends along the way.

Posted in General Placement Blogs