"There are so many misconceptions with apprenticeships." Hannah Lee of Zurich on setting out on a degree apprenticeship

16 Nov 2020
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Following the launch of a new BSc (Hons) Data Science degree apprenticeship programme at Winchester sponsored by Zurich Insurance, student Hannah Lee, a junior data scientist at the leading insurers, explains why she chose to study on the programme and how what she is learning is boosting her career prospects.

Tell us about yourself and your role at Zurich

I'm Hannah and I work as a Junior Data Scientist in the Predictive Analytics team at Zurich. I started as an Actuarial Apprentice after completing my A-Levels and have now been here for over 3 years. In my role I work on various projects involving AI and machine learning - no two projects are the same which means I get a lot of variety, which I love! (They say "variety is the spice of life" - William Cowper).

Why did you choose to start the BSc Data Science degree apprenticeship at the University of Winchester?

There are several core aspects of data science and this degree apprenticeship will provide a strong coverage of all these things - data analytics, maths and statistics and computer science. I have been able to learn so much on the job, but this course will help me understand the maths and theory behind some of the techniques we use, as well as learning new skills and techniques that I can apply to my role.

Describe a typical week

Mondays are my uni day, where I attend online seminars and workshops. This is ideal for me because it means I have the rest of the week to focus on work.

At the moment, my team are working from home so every morning we have a virtual meeting to catch up and talk about the work we have on for the day, which helps maintain our strong team culture.

In terms of work, I spend a lot of time exploring and interrogating data in R. I also analyse data and create statistical models based on internal data collected from customers, as well as external data which is often publicly available. These models are used to analyse trends or make predictions and can be used to inform pricing decisions, among other things. A significant part of my role involves communicating my findings, so I spend time working on presentations to communicate to the team and stakeholders.

I also spend time working on an initiative I lead called Ride the Railway, which enables people in the organisation to visit other teams to broaden their understanding of the business, discover new roles and grow their network.

What elements of the degree apprenticeship have you found challenging so far?

I found it hard to rebalance my work/life with the added element of study! I'm trying to manage my time so I can focus on my work deliverables Tuesday to Friday and setting aside enough time throughout the week to focus on university work and lectures. It's taking some getting used to but I'm getting there!

And the most rewarding?

The fact I'm learning new things that I can apply directly to my role. Most students may not realise the things they're learning are relevant or if they'll ever use them. However, working in the industry means when you learn things you can stop and think "I know how I'd use this at work" or "this would help me with this piece of work". It can be useful to know that what I'm learning is worthwhile.

Where do you hope your degree will take you?

This apprenticeship will help me gain the knowledge, skills and experience that will help me develop technically within my team and to gain expertise in the data science field. I will also be able to develop other transferable skills such as time management, prioritisation and communication, which will be beneficial in any role throughout my career.

What would you say to others considering a degree apprenticeship?

Why not? I couldn't think of a better way to do it. You get a degree paid for by your employer, earn money, and get three + years of real work experience.

Some people struggle when they finish university as they have no work experience and have difficulty adjusting from textbook learning to applying their skills on the job. With a degree apprenticeship, it seems you get the best of both worlds!

There are so many misconceptions with apprenticeships, but lots of industries offer them at different levels (you can do a Masters degree as an apprentice!). It's an alternative to full-time university, with many benefits.

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