Spotlight on Dr Patricio Troncoso

We hear from Patricio about life working as a Research Fellow in SCADR and why he chose a career in data.

Patricio joined SCADR's 'Understanding children’s lives and outcomes' project team in January 2021.

Whilst he would normally be based within I-Sphere at Heriot-Watt University, he is currently working from home, having the same challenges as everyone else who has young children requiring home schooling! However, he is lucky to be part of a very friendly and supportive team, that has helped him to adjust to this new way of working. Among his favourite activities are the regular online meetings (formal and informal), where the team discuss work, but also share all their accomplishments and frustrations.

We asked Patricio the following questions to find out more about his role; the challenges he faces and what advice he would give to others starting their journey.

Why did you choose a career in data?

I have been interested in statistics since my first degree in Sociology. Back then, I learned that social phenomena can be quite complex, which is why we need reasonably complex approaches to tackle them. I believe here is where statistics comes into play, as it helps us to unravel some of those complexities in a parsimonious way. Since that realisation, my aim has been to use statistics to contribute to progressive social change.

What does your job entail? 

I am an applied statistician with a background in Sociology and Public Policy, and experience in educational and children’s outcomes, so my work will mainly contribute to the “Understanding children’s lives and outcomes" strand. 

I am currently involved in two projects, the first project is “Exploring context, factors and approaches to educational exclusions and absences”, which will be analysing the variation across schools and local authorities in exclusions and absences, along with how this is influenced by family circumstances and its subsequent impact on educational outcomes and post-school destinations. The second project is “Placement stability of children in out-of-home care in Scotland”, in which we will analyse the long-term pathways of 'looked after children' through the social care system and their association with educational outcomes.

I believe that statistical methods can be a powerful tool for progressive social change, so having the opportunity to work on projects that may have an impact on improving people’s lives, especially children’s, is the best reward for all the hard work that is involved in research.

What challenges have you had to overcome with your latest projects? 

I think the greatest challenge to overcome for anyone working with administrative data is the waiting times. Complying with regulations and negotiating with government departments about the level of detail you can have access to, can take a long time. However, once that hurdle is behind you, the richness of the data and the excitement about the ample possibilities for interesting research largely pay off.

What have you learnt from your current experience?

Having spent countless hours in front of a computer getting data ready for analysis and then trying several different ways of analysing it, I have learned to be very mindful of the structure of my folders and files, as well as the importance of commenting on my code! There is always a time at which I need to get back to something I did a few months ago (or even longer). Having a tidy(-ish!) folder structure along with comments on the code and strategically placed “README” text files are the ball of thread that helps me find the way out of (or into) my own labyrinth. 

What is one of your professional accomplishments?

In 2016, I secured funding for a secondment at the Department for Education DfE (England). The objective was to create and analyse a bespoke longitudinal dataset of the Children in Need (CiN) census.

We published a report that gathered interest from policy makers and NGO’s working with children. This was the first time that such analyses could be conducted, since the dataset did not exist before this project. The DfE took this work forward and conducted the review of Children in Need, partly informed by my approach. Back then, we knew that the full impact of this project would not be seen immediately and we were proven right as this work continues to be cited and I recently secured more funding to progress this further.

Finally, what do you like to do when you aren’t working?

I absolutely love travelling, from the pre-travel research and the actual ride on the bus/train/plane to the destination itself. Having said that, I am not a huge fan of beach destinations, as I much prefer city breaks; trying the local food & drinks, walking around and trying to catch a glimpse of the local's lifestyle etc.

This article was published on 08 Mar 2021

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