Spotlight on Jan Savinc

We hear from Jan about adapting to life in Scotland, his work as a Research Fellow and what made him chose a career in Data Science.

Life as a Research Fellow

My name is Jan Savinc and I’m a Research Fellow at Edinburgh Napier University, where I started working as a Research Assistant in 2017. I joined SCADR part-time in June 2020, and have been made full-time since September 2020. Generally speaking, my job is to analyse various datasets and produce reports of the analysis along with various visualisations, and to document the data processing involved.

At SCADR I’m involved in the Care at the End of Life project, looking at the Scottish population aged 70 or older who were in their last year of life at the time of the 2001 and 2011 census, and comparing estimates of informal care needs, across geographical areas. At the minute I’m working on a report on the different rates of retirement migration in Scotland and their care needs estimates. Some of the future projects at SCADR I’ll be working on include investigating health outcomes of veterans, and looking at population living in care homes.

For the past two years I’ve also worked on the Effects of Childhood Adversity on Suicidality and Mental Health (CHASe) study with Dr Nadine Dougall and a host of collaborators. This involved looking at linked lifetime hospital records of young people born in Scotland since 1981 who died of suicide and comparing those to the records of the general population to find patterns of childhood adversity that were risk factors for suicide. The analysis uses a range of ICD codes indicative of adverse childhood experiences that I’ve translated from the USA to the UK catalogue. We’ve published a protocol paper and are currently drafting a report of our findings.

I am also working with Dr Tracy Humphrey and Dr Sara Denham on the Mode of delivery after Caesarean Section study (MOBAC), looking at birth records in Scotland and identifying features predictive of a successful vaginal birth after a caesarean section, to be used as a decision aid in a clinical setting.


Why chose a career in Data Science?

I think I was heading towards a career in data science without even realising it! I did an undergraduate degree in Cognitive Science and an MRes in Psychology at the University of Edinburgh – for both dissertations I programmed experiments on visual crowding using Python and the PsychoPy library and analysed data in R which gave me a good grounding in data science skills.  I then started a role as a Research Assistant supporting various data science-related projects and I’ve been working with data ever since.

I enjoy working with data because it feels like solving puzzles, and there’s an element of immersion into a dataset where you sit with the documentation and learn what the variables mean, how they relate to each other, and so on. Although the tasks don’t necessarily differ that much between the projects, there’s always a sense of novelty and freshness when you first start exploring a dataset and discovering what’s there. And then you need to clean the data, which is another story (fortunately I find that aspect of the work satisfying too!).

My top tip is simply to read someone else’s documentation and you’ll learn a lot about how to improve your own!


My biggest challenge

As a student I was involved in setting up the Edinburgh Student Housing Co-operative, a 106-bed self-managed student housing project on the Bruntsfield Links in Edinburgh (formerly Napier University student accommodation).

It was a very intense and challenging time, since we needed to figure out how to govern ourselves whilst keeping up with the finances; keep on top of repairs and also do some studying at the same time!

It made me appreciate how difficult it can be, to keep a large group of people involved and how much work goes into running a company.


Some unknown facts!

I’m Slovenian but I’ve lived in Scotland for 10 years and became a citizen last year.

I first visited Scotland when I was 12 and I think it must have left a good impression! It helped that it only rained once in the 15 days I was here.

Lately I’ve been making various fermented foods and beverages. I started with bread, sauerkraut, swede, and kimchi, and I’ve been brewing kombucha and beer also. I’ve got a carrot wine on the go which needs to mature until Autumn 2021 so I’m looking forward to trying that! 

You can follow me on Twitter: @jsavinc 

This article was published on 17 Dec 2020

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