Ashley Sibanda

'As my courses at school are heavily Statistics based, this was definitely the right placement for me.'

Why did you apply for a Nuffield Research Placement?

With only a year left to decide which path to take after sixth form, I wanted to spend my year 12 summer doing something that could help me make a decision. I am very academically curious and I have a strong passion for Mathematics. After hearing about the Nuffield Research placements, I decided there was nothing to lose and a lot to gain so I completed an application as a Mathematician rather than a scientist or Engineer. Much to my delight, I got a phone call informing me that they had a placement involving Statistics and of course I was interested.

What was your project about and did you know anything about the area before you started the placement?

My project was about using Statistics to make sure that academic tests are testing what they should be for the right year groups. This involved a lot of sampling and processing long spreadsheets of data with the appropriate software then condensing the information to useful, interpretable tables and graphs. I was also able to attend sessions where they came up with questions and I had a go at making a few which was quite interesting. Precision, accuracy and replicability were definitely the key factors that I had to focus on from a researcher`s point of view. This involved some hours in the NFER library reading through journals to try and see other factors that affect academic performance such as bullying or class size. As my courses at school are heavily Statistics based, this was definitely the right placement for me and I was not put off too much by some of the jargon. There was always someone to help when I did find myself needing a dictionary.

Was the placement what you expected it to be?

No and yes in a good way. No because I thought it would very serious and uptight office work but much to my surprise researchers are very flexible! Since it was during the summer, everyone was free to take their laptops out into the sun and get their work done. Yes, because it was a professional environment and heavily Maths based. The branch of Statistics was very intriguing, not just classroom theoretical Statistics.

Did you gain any new skills, both scientific and general work skills, from undertaking your placement?

As it was all about me carrying out my own research, I learnt a lot of Statistics in just four weeks. I also learnt to be more accurate with my calculations and work as a team. I had never attended meetings before and it was a good lesson to learn to not go to one empty handed: a notebook and pen might help. Punctuality was definitely something I improved on as I had to take a train to my placement so being organised was key.

Has your experience helped you to decide on a career path?

It definitely has! I would not say I am absolutely just going to focus on Statistics but I did end up enjoying the idea of research more than I thought I would which then influenced my university and course choices. There is a high probability that whatever I end up studying will be 80% Mathematics and I need to leave some room for my sciences. I also found that I prefer theoretical to experimental sciences.

What are your future plans?

I am planning to go to the University of Rochester, NY, to complete an undergraduate degree in STEM. At the moment, I am thinking of going on further to complete post-graduate studies: researchers never stop learning!