Working as a government statistician – Rachel Mulholland

January 14, 2020 by No Comments | Category Census, Public Sector, Uncategorized

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:

In this blog Rachel Mulholland tells us about her experiences.

Leaving high school, I never really knew what I wanted to do for a career. I eventually decided I would go and study mathematics. At one of the open days, a lecturer recommended that I could study statistics. At the time I did not know much about this subject, but the more I looked into it, the more I became interested. I was then accepted to do a joints in Maths and Statistics at the University of Glasgow. I soon found my love for applying statistical tools to pick apart data.

In my 2nd year, we were given a talk by students who had just completed their degree in MSci Statistics with Work Placement. This 5 year programme would change from other statistics degrees after 3rd year, where students would go out on a year-long placement in their 4th year and return for their final year doing courses at master level. This talk was pivotal in my academic career. The analyses and projects these students completed as data analyst interns sounded very interesting. The impact they had on their organisations was inspiring. I chose to follow in their footsteps and change my degree. This was the best decision I had ever made!

In the summer of 2017, before starting my work placement, I completed a summer placement with the University of Stirling. This was with the Earth Observation team and looked at data from lakes all across the world, which were recorded by satellites. My project here was to create a R package using time-series tools to analyse water quality readings from satellites, and compare results to physical samples from the lakes themselves. This gave me a flavour of being in research, and I enjoyed being part of improving methods for environmental science.

Following this, I started my journey as a data analyst with the Planning and Business Intelligence (PBI) team at the University of Glasgow. One of the roles of my department was to explore and analyse anomalies in student data. The results from these were communicated to senior board members, such as the Deans of Learning and Teaching and Heads of Schools and Colleges.

Throughout my placement I was able to work on a wide variety of incoming requests from internal stakeholders. This breadth of work allowed me to build my portfolio of statistical tools that I soon became very comfortable in using. My programming skills in R also became better. I created a dashboard for visualising student data across the university for staff where I learned how to use the BI tool QlikView.

My department were very supportive and always made sure I had opportunities to communicate my results with the appropriate people. Presenting to senior board members and being questioned on my methodology and interpretation was a common task. I soon began to understand the importance of translating statistical outputs clearly, which was greatly beneficial going forward.

After successfully completing my placement, I was offered to return on a part-time basis whilst I went back to my studies to complete my masters. I found that having a year out gave my brain the break it needed and made me approach assignments in a completely different way: I had been concerned that I would have forgotten everything I had previously learned. I was also delighted when received an award for my dissertation paper by the Statisticians in the Pharmaceutical Industry (PSI).

Approaching graduation I was still unsure what to do with my degree. I found myself at a crossroad where I wasn’t sure whether to do a graduate scheme, apply for a PhD, or apply for a job. All I knew was that I wanted to use my statistical knowledge in making some form of positive impact. I came across the advert for being an Assistant Statistician for the Scottish Government (SG) through student emails. This seemed like the perfect opportunity and I applied straight away.

After I found out I was successful, I decided I would move to Edinburgh and start my career with the SG. I started my position with the National Records of Scotland (NRS) after I completing my final placement with PBI.

I soon found out I was on the Statistical Disclosure Control (SDC) and Outputs team for the 2021 Census. This was an exciting opportunity to be able to work on the biggest data collection method for Scotland’s population. Here, one of my main responsibilities is to create new variables and update existing ones to the 2021 format. This involves liaising other Census agencies across the UK, and exploring user demand through stakeholder events. Through these tasks I have been able to progress my SAS coding, with the help of a Scottish Government training course. I am also the geography Statistician for the Census, which means I am to quality assure new and existing Census geographies. This has led me to develop skills in ArcGIS, where I was given training by a Geographical Information Systems (GIS) Analyst within NRS.

I have been in this role now for just over 4 months and have settled in nicely. I’m enjoying the wide variety of projects at hand, and have appreciated the training opportunities too. I also particularly like the Assistant Statistician events, which allow you to network with other Statisticians and learn more about departments you never knew existed! Through these events I have also been able to become a member of the Royal Statistical Society (RSS).

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