A look at our Professional Skills module

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At the beginning of March, we welcomed over 70 students from Newcastle University's MSc Data Science course to The Catalyst for the delivery of the Professional Skills module, an intensive two-week programme of study which is taught in partnership between ourselves at the National Innovation Centre for Data and the University's School of Computing.


The Professional Skills module, delivered to this year's students, is a unique programme which aims to prepare students for a career in data science by exposing them to real-world data problems. "Employees from industry and students work alongside each other," explains Graham Cole, Data Scientist here at the National Innovation Centre for Data, who is one of the leaders of the Professional Skills module. "Not only do the students learn new skills and techniques, they're exposed to how businesses operate and what will be required of them when they enter the workforce."


But where did the idea for Professional Skills come from? "It came from an insight that business-related teaching is often focussed at the higher level, but rarely offers the practical lessons of addressing business problems head-on," says Barry Hodgson, our Director of Strategy and another leader of the module. "The idea built on notions of the 'lean startup' and the 'business model canvas' to create a programme introducing innovation development through tools and methods regularly used by industry - the major development we made to the idea was to introduce industry problem owners who help to validate students' ideas as they progress through the programme."


"Not only do the students learn new skills and techniques, they're exposed to how businesses operate and what will be required of them when they enter the workforce."

Graham Cole, National Innovation Centre for Data


This year's problem owners included teams from North of Tyne Combined Authority, Port of Tyne, and the software company Sage. Some joined us in person at The Catalyst, while others joined remotely. Most were in attendance to see the students pitch their proposed solutions in our TED Theatre on the penultimate day of the programme, and all spoke highly of what they saw and heard there. "They've come up with some real concrete solutions," said Karl Boyd, Sage's Foundation Manager for the UK and Ireland, on the day of the presentations. "[These solutions] can be evolved and moved, and can be used across the various different regions that we've got in Sage at different points and at different times."


For the industry problem owners, getting involved in the Professional Skills module has had, and will continue to have, a number of benefits. "What's really important about collaborating with the National Innovation Centre for Data is that we've got access and exposure to your graduate talent pipeline," explains Tracey Younger, Key Account and Service Delivery Manager at Port of Tyne. "That's really, really, important for us." And, as our own Graham Cole adds, the sessions in Professional Skills "often provide 'lightbulb' moments for organisations which can be taken forward internally."


So what's next for the Professional Skills module? "The module delivers a curriculum which is domain-agnostic and could be adopted across teaching not only within the SAgE [Science, Agriculture and Engineering] Faculty, but throughout the whole University," Graham says. "I'd like to see the learning gained from delivering this module over the years be fed into a group of like-minded academics, ensuring consistency of delivery."


"We've got access and exposure to your graduate talent pipeline...that's really, really important for us."

Tracey Younger, Port of Tyne


In the meantime, we're going to be launching our 2022 Data Insights Bootcamp (a similar programme, but open to students from other faculties across the University) very soon, with the sessions themselves set to take place in June/July. Make sure you're following us on Twitter and LinkedIn for the latest updates on this and other events. But for now, we hope you've enjoyed this insight into our Professional Skills module!



We would once again like to thank North of Tyne Combined Authority, Port of Tyne and Sage for participating in this year's Professional Skills module. We would also like to thank Matt Forshaw and the team from Newcastle University's School of Computing for their invaluable work in delivering the module with us.

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