I'd always been interested in how government works, so when I was finishing up my physics PhD I looked into roles in the civil service.
I was fully expecting that there wouldn’t be anything that would really use my maths and computer skills (which I'd spent years developing at university studying for my degree and PhD), but then I stumbled across the Operational Research (OR) Fast Stream.
I'd never heard of Operational Research, but it looked interesting – a combination of logically thinking through problems, mathematical modelling, data work and computing. In fact a lot like what I'd been doing on my PhD! So I was excited at the opportunity to use my skills and knowledge, but apply them to issues that more directly affect people.
I was assigned to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) – a department that I'd heard of but didn't know too much about. I soon found out that Defra has a huge range of responsibilities so the different posts I had during my time there were really varied – I worked on everything from simulating the impact of poor harvests on agricultural commodity markets to looking at how best to capture the risks of plant and animal diseases in order to effectively present them to ministers.
The fast stream pushed me, placing me in a variety of different roles and encouraging me to take on additional responsibilities. There was also a great community amongst OR fast streamers from across government, which was a good way of getting ideas and a feel for what other departments were like.
Fast forward a couple of years, and I've left the fast stream on promotion, moving over to HMRC. Moving from agriculture to tax is a bit of a change (and there are a lot of new acronyms to learn), but I’m still using all the skills I built up on the fast stream.
At HMRC I'm a data exploitation lead where my work centres around exploring innovative new ways HMRC data can be used. At the moment that involves looking at customer contact and separately at offshore data. This is a really interesting role, working with big data and exploring how the latest data science tools and techniques can be best used within the department. I also create and develop new projects for the team, manage others on these projects, and help to set the strategic vision for the team.
I'm really glad I took up the challenge to enter the fast stream when I was looking around at how best I could use my maths and computing skills at the end of my PhD.