Great roles are where you find them – a statistician’s story

I’ll be frank, working in fisheries management was not the reason I applied to the statistical fast stream. At least that is what I thought when I saw my first posting. I’d hoped to be fighting climate change with spreadsheets or harnessing the power of data to help the NHS be more effective, you know something high-profile and in the headlines. However, after eight months in post I can honestly say that I love my job. And that, put simply, is the great thing about the Fast Stream. Being put into a completely unfamiliar area of work and ending up not only knowing it inside out but caring about it deeply.

To start from the beginning, I am not a ‘traditional’ statistician; I studied environmental science and geology at Durham University. After graduation I did a Ph.D. followed by three years as a post-doctoral researcher. So how can I call myself a statistician? Well, while my background wasn’t specifically in statistics, the core of my day-to-day work most certainly was. So to all those psychologists, geographers, sociologists and many more out there who don’t feel like statisticians but sit on a mountain of statistical knowledge, the statistics stream is definitely for you too!

Why do I love this posting so much? A big part of it is the people; my team, my manager and the Marine Management Organisation as a whole. I’m not on my own in a corner; I am in the centre of it all. I love complex problems, and fisheries management provides them in spades, in all shapes and sizes. It is a cliché but in fisheries management it is really true that no two days are ever the same. As an assistant statistician, I don’t just provide spreadsheets for others more senior than me to use. I get to interpret them and because I understand them, I get to make decisions and recommendations based upon them. I have genuine responsibility, even in my first posting, even in my first few months in post.

As an island nation, known for its sea going heritage, fishing is a vital part of our economy and is at the centre of many communities around our shores. It is a real privilege to be able to assist in the sustainable management of these resources, so this sector can thrive into the future. Central to achieving this is using data and evidence to make decisions, so that our choices are objective, justifiable, and most importantly, effective. Being in an operational role, that is public facing, delivery oriented, I get to work with a range of interesting people including fishermen, conservationists, policy makers and academics. Working with these stakeholders reminds me constantly that the work of government doesn’t have to be high-profile to be important and that my decisions have significant real world impacts.

Something that I have been asked more than once is if I am worried that my next posting won’t be as good as this one. My answer is that I am not worried about that at all. Firstly, I have learned my lesson about judging books by their covers, or postings by their titles. If you go into it with an open mind you will get a lot out of it. Secondly, there has never been a better time to be a statistician in government. We are living in the digital age so data and evidence are central to our decision making processes. As a statistician you have the chance to work in any branch of our government and your input will be highly sought after to help ministers make important decisions that affect us all.

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