Hi Kate! Thanks for letting us a have a nosy into your work life and your life-life. First up… What do you do for Wood for Trees?
I ask myself this all the time. I am a data scientist at Wood for Trees. I do a lot of analysis and a little bit of predictive modelling. I take some really cool analytics projects that my colleagues have worked on, and I add a predictive element to them.
Now just imagine you were talking to someone who still didn’t really get it… how would you explain it to them?
One of the things I do is make propensity models, so a charity client says “We’re gonna send this mailing out to see if we can raise a little bit of money.” I’ll help to predict who is most likely to respond to that – so they don’t waste their time and money bothering people who are never going to respond. I optimise! That word embraces a lot of what I’m trying to do.
What exactly is a data scientist?
I like to think of data science as the intersection between mathematics and computer science. There’s the coding, statistics, and machine learning, but there’s another important element – the business context. You need that setting for it to make sense.
Do you like your job? What aspect do you like the most?
I love that what I do makes a positive difference. There are days where the deadlines are really short and the workload is huge but gosh dang, I want to help our clients. I want to do the best I can to help them on their way. Working for charities is a really great motivator. Knowing you’re helping to raise money for cats and dogs, or refugees when they really need it feels really good.
Are there bits don’t you like – don’t worry your boss definitely won’t read this.
Everybody knows I really hate doing my own data engineering. I don’t like wrangling messy data from loads of different sources. It’s like the process of turning over the jigsaw puzzle pieces before you can start on your puzzle. It’s necessary, but I don’t like it!
Are there things happening in the industry, or your field of work, that you feel excited about?
I love working in this sector because it’s a challenge. Traditionally the charity sector is not super techy, which means I get to have quite a big impact by helping people become more comfortable talking about data science and machine learning. I think we’re starting to see an advancement in the sector, more people are taking on technical projects. I’m really excited I get to be a part of helping them to understand all the benefits we can bring to them.
I’m also really excited about the impact InsightHub can have within the higher education sector. There’s so many parallels between the charity sector and higher education – they’re both not-for-profit and are doing good in the world. And working for my undergraduate college is where I found my passion for data analysis, so I feel like I’m coming full circle in a way!
How did you get into this kind of work?
In my final year of undergrad college I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I was very nervous that I was suddenly supposed to figure out what I was going to do with my life! I felt super unready for the real world, but I knew that what I liked more than anything was my internship.
For about three years I worked as an intern in the alumni office of my college. I started by running their reunion events – I loved meeting all the alumni, it was magical to be generations apart from people, but we all loved the same place.
Because I was good at math and numbers they started giving me all the spreadsheets and analysis work. But there came a point that I felt like I was missing something – I didn’t know where all this data was stored, what the database looked like or how to extract a lot of data at once. I had the desire for more technical knowledge. That’s what led me to pursue my master’s degree in data science, which brought me to the UK.
That was our next question, what brought you to the UK?
I’d done some studying in Scotland and loved it so I was really keen to do my master’s in the UK. So I looked around and found Bath. That programme had an additional year of a job placement. I started work and through one of my colleagues I met someone who worked for Wood for Trees. Hearing her talk about what she did there, I was like “Oh. I want to do that.” So I reached out and asked if they needed a data scientist. And once I was here, I thought “I can really see myself doing this for years.”
We’re so glad you’re here! Is this what Little Kate always dreamed of doing?
When I was about seven, I thought the coolest thing you could do was to be a school bus driver. Because you get to deliver little kids to school because education is so important.
This might be the cutest thing we’ve ever heard...
I think it’s because I had a really good relationship with my bus driver. Living in such a rural place we would spend about an hour a day together. If we arrived before school had opened yet we would hang out and I would help her sweep the bus and we’d listen to country music – I didn’t really like the music much though.
If readers haven’t already guessed, you’re from the US, tell us about your hometown.
I grew up in a little hamlet in New York State. We had one main road, no stop lights. One gas station, one restaurant and a general store that my grandparents used to own. It was the kind of place where almost everyone knew me and even if they didn’t know me exactly, they could look at my face and guess who I was related to. Everybody knew how to pronounce and spell my last name because it was the name of the general store. Now no one knows how to say it!
It was the kind of place that you couldn’t really do data science stuff, I would have to move. Everyone assumed I would teach but I always knew I wanted to travel and move abroad.
Bath is my home now – I had my first experience of work here, I have my cat, I have too many books to move back now!
What do you miss about your hometown?
I miss apple season. I miss apple picking and pumpkin picking. The summers are so much nicer there. I don’t miss the 3-4 ft of snow every winter though.
Tell us about your cat!
I love him so much. He is the chaos that brings life to my home. His name is Archimedes and I got him last spring when he was just a little kitten. He is now a huge black fluffy cat with no concept of personal space. He likes chewing cardboard and when he meows he sounds like a seagull. He’s a very good boy.
What are you passionate about?
Well I do have a giant passion for the work we do, but in my personal life I really love reading. I have around 200 books, I read fiction, non-fiction, any genre. Last year I read 130 books. I’m only up to about 60 this year. I also like crafting and baking. And I take Archimedes for a walk sometimes – he enjoys smelling all the cool smells.
Finally, a classic: if you were an animal, what animal would you be and why?
An otter. Because the best animals are fluffy animals. And I love swimming, I swam competitively growing up. My favourite place in the world is being out on the lake in the Adirondacks, which is a massive New York state park. I love swimming in the lake on a nice sunny day, floating around and I feel like that has good otter energy.
If you’d like to connect with Kate to discuss data science, books or cats, you can find her on LinkedIn.