Working as a government statistician – David Redpath
With the Scottish Government welcoming applications for Assistant Statistician posts, we have a series of blog posts by government statisticians talking about how they became Assistant Statisticians. We also have some fixed term opportunities available now. If you are interested in a fixed term opportunity, please submit your up to date CV to: firstname.lastname@example.org
In this blog David Redpath tells us about his experiences.
My route into the statistics group hasn’t been the conventional one. I gave up maths after my Standard Grades, opting for physics as my numerate Higher instead. I then studied Sociology at Edinburgh University, where the compulsory statistics class in Honours was seen as a necessary evil to get the degree; SPSS was not my friend in those days and that was just using the menus… qualitative data analysis seemed far more fun.
Once I completed my Sociology degree, I then signed up for a Masters in Human Resource Management at Strathclyde University. Statistics were encountered again as part of professional skills module, with the main units covering things such as people management, employment law, employee relations and so on. Once I finished the degree I worked in HR in various places gaining experience, and then I got my first ‘proper job’ as an HR Advisor in NHS Lothian.
After doing the job for a while it was quite apparent that role and even the career path wasn’t for me, but the bit I did like was looking at the reports being generated on things like absence management and making sense of them, looking at the outliers driving up the average rates and then trying to communicate this data to the managers I was supporting, linking the underlying data to the individuals.
My dad, who worked at NHS NSS Information Services Division, said I’d probably like working there as an Analyst/Statistician and the next time ‘Information Analyst’ jobs became available I applied and (after brushing upon my basic statistics) was successful in getting a post.
My time in ISD started in the Secondary Care Team analysing acute hospital data, using individual patient records doing adhoc requests, working on publications such as A+E waiting times, wider projects like creating benchmarking dashboards and predicting emergency admissions to assist winter planning. After doing this for a few years I was lucky enough to get promoted and found myself seconded into the Scottish Government, where I worked in Health Analytical Services Division (ASD) in a team covering NHS workforce statistics and NHS Pay modelling.
This was fascinating, a really fast paced team helping to provide statistics to help inform and shape policy, answer Parliamentary Questions, and brief Ministers. One thing I found great about being in the Scottish Government was the statistics group, the Assistant Statistician meetings and the general camaraderie and professional support available.
After almost two years in this post I rotated back to posts in ISD, one in eDRIS supporting data linkage, learning about information governance and creating extracts for researchers. Then after about a year there I moved back to the Secondary Care Team where I was heavily involved in the production of publications, and the overhaul and improvement of these.
I was looking for something new and the opportunity of a two year secondment into National Records of Scotland presented itself. The post was in the Admin Data team. Data linkage is a topic I’d been interested in for a while. The project looked a real challenge and opportunity to be involved in something that hadn’t been done before. I was delighted to be offered the post and have been here since November 2018.
There are two main strands to my work, both have never been done before in Scotland:
- The creation of population and household estimates using administrative data. This is just kicking off now and will give me the opportunity to be involved in the creation of a new publication from scratch.
- Improving the quality of census data through the use of administrative data. This has offered the opportunity to develop new techniques, new skills and really push myself.
Communication is a large part of the role. There is no point being able to do or come up with the complicated computer methodology and algorithms if you can’t explain it to others. I need to write reports and papers so that peers and a non-statistician audience alike can understand what’s being done and why.
My challenging but exciting task is to be able to explain complex Census concepts and procedures in such a way that it’s understandable by the general public.
I’ve gained a greater understanding of Information Governance and the legal elements that underpin data linkage work and challenges you need to solve when running this sort of project. It’s vital and will be increasingly so as the world of ‘big data’ and data linkage expands and underpins the intelligence that helps design and deliver key public services.
I’ve been learning SAS programming from scratch, as my preferred tool when I was at ISD was SPSS and then a little R and SQL too.
As when I was in the Scottish Government previously, there is a great support network, lots of training opportunities, statistics group and Assistant Statistician meetings. In fact this was one of the big reasons I was keen to come to National Records of Scotland. There has been great on the job support from peers, helping with learning the institutions and organisation and processes as well as new statistical techniques and programming.
The National Records of Scotland and the Scottish Government statistics group offer opportunities to rotate into different posts across different sectors to gain experience and different perspectives. From my experience my post in Health ASD is totally different to my current post in NRS. I’ve found that the stats group is a very broad church. It’s certainly not all maths and stats graduates, there are people from all disciplines and walks of life. However, I’ve not come across any other Sociology Graduates in the stats group….yet!