Head of Data & Insight Service
Rebecca Allen, UCL Planning Division
Prior to this I worked in the Office of the Vice-Provost (Education & Student Affairs), where I started as a grade 7 in 2015, running and developing institutional student surveys such as the NSS. Within this team I went on to work in a more senior capacity on broader education and student experience data projects. I UCL joined from the rail industry, so working in that team gave me a good grounding in understanding UCL, access to senior leadership, getting to know the huge and varied user base we have here, as well as an introduction to the broader HE data landscape. I spent a lot of time listening to what people wanted from data insights, and improving and simplifying what had been produced before to help them to make better decisions based on evidence rather than gut feeling. I also learned a huge amount about the importance of good data governance prior to data collection.
I did an English Literature degree (and Master’s) so I don’t have a statistical or mathematical background. This has meant I’ve had to work harder than I might have otherwise to prove myself, learn complex statistical concepts and to feel like I was credible in my field, but I feel confident that this background also helps me to understand the perspective of our users and to communicate effectively with them. I tend to learn in a hands-on way, so I advanced my career by volunteering for projects and learning as I did them, saying yes to things I didn’t feel quite ready or qualified for, and picking up knowledge from others who were further ahead in their careers than I was. I co-led the Data & Insight Community of Practice for the first two years of its inception, which was a really rich and humbling experience. I learned a lot about how to get the best out of people, as well as the value of pooling our skills and knowledge as data professionals.
I would advise any aspiring (or veteran!) analyst at UCL to get involved with this brilliant and generous community. I’d also recommend finding some people you admire professionally and asking for their advice. People usually love to be asked and as long as you aren’t taking up too much of their time, will happily share their advice and experience with you. It is important to get to know your own learning and development style and lean into this – perhaps you like to learn on the job, or maybe you prefer to quietly work your way through online courses. Either way, try to get to know who the key people are in your field, say yes to opportunities that come your way, apply for secondments, and don’t be afraid to try anything, even if you don’t think you have all the skills yet.
I’m about to go on maternity leave for a year so that’s what is next for me. After that – who knows!