Data Lab awards student’s MSc data science project

Winner Debbie Maltman’s MSc project will help increase volunteering in Scotland through analysing key data

The academic year 2017/18 saw 130 Data Lab MSc places completed across 11 universities, with 76 of them undertaking industry placements at 50 different organisations in Scotland.

In response to growing demand, The Data Lab has increased places available in 2018/19 by 25 to 155. This represents a 310% increase in places since the programme’s inception three years ago.

The MSc programme provides students with a choice of industrial placements or research-based projects. While many opt for a research-based project at their university, 76 placements were given after 100 employers noted their interest in participating in the programme. The Data Lab worked closely with its academic partners and the placement companies to support each student throughout the placement and monitor progress. At the end, a winning project was chosen.

This year’s Student Project Award winner is Debbie Maltman who undertook an MSc in Data Science for Business from Stirling University. The award is judged by a panel of data science experts and Data Lab partners, including specialist recruitment company MBN Solutions, which secures the industrial placements for the MSc programme.

Debbie worked on a project for Volunteer Scotland where she used statistical analysis and machine learning to help the charity understand online search behaviour so that it can positively influence users towards volunteering opportunities.

Debbie’s project is a perfect example of the practical impact data science can have on smaller organisations, as well as the value her skills brought to the wider team.
– Paul Forrest, MBN Solutions

Currently about 27% of adults in Scotland volunteer for good causes, but the number of hours they have been putting in has been decreasing steadily for five years – from £2.1bn per year in equivalent economic value to £1.1bn per year.

Debbie used several publicly available data sets alongside Volunteer Scotland’s own data to build statistical analyses of volunteer hours and demographics. Her data models and findings have been crucial for Volunteer Scotland in understanding the key factors for why individuals volunteer, how often they volunteer and how much of their time they give. She also helped to enrich the organisation’s existing data analyses so that it can better connect with potential new volunteers.

Debbie Maltman said: “It was exciting to put my MSc theory to the test with a real-world project and was hugely rewarding to be able to use my skills on such a worthwhile initiative. I learned a lot from being in a professional environment and the entire project was thoroughly helpful for my career development.”

“I am very happy to be returning to Volunteer Scotland in mid-October as a research officer on a fixed-term contract until June 2019. Staying in Scotland was really important to me and being given the opportunity to work with the incredible research team at Volunteer Scotland has topped off a brilliant year.”

Alan Stevenson, Marketing and IT Manager from Volunteer Scotland said: “Debbie introduced our small team to some of the key skills and knowledge which has moved our insight and experimentation capability from the rudimentary to a much more enlightened understanding. Debbie has been a wonderful ambassador for the power of data science within an organisation. We hope we can continue this aspect of her work with as much vigour and passion.”

MBN Solutions chair Paul Forrest said: “As always, it was very difficult to choose a winner – demonstrating the outstanding quality of data courses across Scotland’s universities. Debbie’s project is a perfect example of the practical impact data science can have on smaller organisations, as well as the value her skills brought to the wider team. Congratulations, Debbie.”