The Big Picture
Rúadhán joined the “Fast Stream” graduate pathway with GORS Civil Service upon the completion of Physics MSci in the lockdown year of 2020. GORS stands for the Government Operational Research Service and Fast Stream is a three year graduate programme that allows entry into the service for young professionals. The Civil Service is structured around professional competencies, rather than individual jobs, which are shared across GORS’ individual departments responsible for different tasks. Rúadhán’s field is operational research which he describes as a set of the following professional competencies:
“It’s a way of approaching problems, a moderately standardised list of techniques. We have an issue that we would like to solve and here are some ways that we could do it. We want to achieve a goal, how should we go about doing it?”
The required skills begin with soft skills such as problem structuring and problem solving and extend into data science and computer modelling. In the current assignment, Rúadhán works as a statistician in the Department of Health.
“We look specifically at collecting, analysing and communicating data around adult social care and care homes. My day-to-day job is understanding data sources surrounding COVID-19, care homes, infection rates and numbers of outbreaks“
Part of the job is meticulous data processing, data reporting and communication between the team members to ensure that the data streams stay accurate and valid. The majority of his time is dedicated to independent data analysis and exploring the data to find interesting artefacts to bring to policy colleagues in other departments.
“You are somewhere between data analyst and data science and you’re supporting policy colleagues and providing the evidence needed to be able to change policy. We are the ones who are keeping track of those trends.”
The Physics Connection
A physics degree is highly relevant in the field of data analysis and operational research, and job advertisements in the field would ask for a highly numerate degree in subjects like maths, physics, computer science and statistics.
“Whenever you read the job description and you see the word “modelling” you know the job might be for you.”
A concern of many graduate physicists is that they naturally forget some of the taught curriculum and lose some of the skills they don’t practice. The imposter syndrome creeps in, making them think they are not qualified enough to do the job, which may stand in the way at the point of applying for the job or asking questions when on the job. A key insight here from many graduates is that employers value the ability to research, relearn and regain knowledge, and seeking knowledge involves asking questions. A physics degree demonstrates that one has a set of capabilities that can be applied to a lot of roles where these capabilities in turn will be refined and deepened when applied to particular tasks.
“Not knowing how to apply linear regression analysis straight away is fine. They want you for your ability to learn those skills, expect you to have done a particular thing in the past and be able to reapply it given a reasonable space of time to learn what those skills are”.
The Application Process
Applying for a job is a skill one needs to practice. It does take time. Draw on advice from the recruitment professionals and people who have gone through the same process. Rúadhán gave the following advice to current physics students:
“Do not apply to your favourite job first, get through the applications for other jobs because you need that practice. You will get rejected a lot and it will take a while, but you need to know that it is not a reflection on you but a reflection on sheer numbers. You are good enough and you have the skills.”