Spotlight on Cecilia Macintyre

This week, as part of International Day of Women and Girls in Science (IDWGIS) on 11 February, we hear from our ADR Scotland colleague, Cecilia Macintyre.

We believe in the importance of shedding light on the stories of successful women from the Statistics and Data Science field, so we asked Celia some questions to get an insight into her career as well as her life in general.

Can you tell us about where you grew up?

I grew up in Inverkeithing, a small town in Fife, Scotland and went to the local school. I enjoyed maths and science at school and in sixth year decided that studying maths at university was for me. The main inspiration for this was a great maths department where the teachers were very supportive and good fun too. I also considered physics and chemistry, but decided that doing experiments was too messy and smelly after attending a university open day in Dundee.

My parents left school during the second world war, when options of studying further were not realistic, so they were not academics, but were very supportive for me to go to the University of Edinburgh. I completed a four year degree focusing on pure Maths, as that was the area I enjoyed most. In the 1980s when looking for my first job, the options seemed to be teaching, accounting, actuarial or the world of computing in various industries. I vaguely recall one of my lecturers mentioning a PhD in optimisation, but I had no appetite for further study so dismissed this without much thought. In those days there was a ‘milk round’ where prospective employers visited universities to attract graduates to their company. British National Oil Corporation made a good impression (and paid a bit more!) so in the end I became a systems analyst and moved to Glasgow. I spent quite a lot of time programming a timesheet system, but after about a year realised I wasn’t interested in business and missed using maths.

When did you decide on a career in data science & statistics?

Having vowed not to study any more I applied for a Masters in Statistics back at the University of Edinburgh! This was quite a change as I had to live off a grant and get up to speed with basic statistics as I had avoided those optional subjects in my undergraduate course. However, this proved to be a good decision as I was using my maths again, and as there were only five of us on the course we were fully integrated with the department, and would speak with Professor David Finney regularly. This course gave me an excellent grounding in statistics and after completing a dissertation in analysis of data on esophageal cancer I became interested in medical statistics.

There was a very active Medical Statistics unit at the University and by a stroke of luck they were looking to employ a junior statistician so my career began (again). This was where I came across one of my role models in statistics - Professor Gillian Raab. She was one of the lecturers there and was a talented and energetic statistician and she was always encouraging. We are still working together 40 years later!

Can you tell us more about your career?

My long career in statistics has not been short in variety, although mainly in two chunks - 14 years in the Medical School at the University of Edinburgh and then the remainder of my time in the public sector, laterally in Scottish Government (which is a partner within ADR Scotland). Here is a whistle stop tour and a few highlights:

  • Researcher in Edinburgh, Lead Study and Lecturer Medical Statistics Unit
  • Survey statistician on Scottish House Condition Survey, Scottish Homes
  • Population and Migration, General Register Office for Scotland (GROS)
  • Statistics Regulator, UK Statistics Authority
  • Quality Assurance, Census 2011 General Register Office for Scotland (GROS)
  • Children and Families Analysis, Scottish Government
  • Administrative Data Research Scotland, Scottish Government

Did you ever have the impression that it would be easier/harder if you were male?

In general I have never felt disadvantaged as a female, although the reason I moved from academia to public sector was related to a couple of issues. First a senior member of the department said that I would be unlikely to progress without becoming a researcher into a health topic which would have been a big change for me, but also when I was involved in an interview panel the same person introduced me as providing the ‘wallpaper’. I don’t think this would have happened if I was a man!

What do you most like about your job?

I really relish the opportunity to work collaboratively with both academic and government (and local government), with the ultimate aim to develop data resources for use in informing policy. I find working in teams enjoyable, having fun whilst getting the job done. It’s good making links across different communities and not being pigeon-holed.

What is the one piece of advice you would give?

To myself, I probably should have found out about doing a PhD before now! To others, make sure you are skilled in the methods in data science, but at the same time develop your knowledge and networks in the substantive area of application.

Who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?

Elaine C. Smith, Simon Armitage, Stanley Tucci and Paulo Nutini.

If you wish to get in touch with Celia, please follow her Twitter and Instagram accounts: @celiamac58

This article was published on 09 Feb 2023

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