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Science Oxford’s STEM Insight Week: A first byte into big data

Monday 2nd March 2020

In February, the Science Oxford team ran a STEM Insight Week on Computing and Coding for fifteen Year 10 students from schools across Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. The idea of our Insight Week is to give young people the opportunity to hear about the science relating to particular businesses and the career opportunities available.

One of the highlights was a visit to the £115 million ultra-modern Big Data Institute (BDI), an interdisciplinary research institute that focuses on the analysis of large, complex data sets into the causes, prevention and treatment of disease. BDI is part of the Li Ka Shing Centre for Health Information and Discovery at the University of Oxford’s Old Road Campus – just down the road from our Science Oxford Centre at Stansfeld Park.

The 20 research groups working at BDI analyse and evaluate data for large clinical research studies to identify associations between lifestyle, genetic variants, infections and health outcomes around the world, potentially improving the everyday lives of millions. The scientists – from a wide range of research areas – based at the centre often create headlines for their work like – “Pan-Cancer Project discovers causes of previously unexplained cancers”, or “Modelling research informs new WHO roadmap for neglected tropical diseases.”

The morning visit to BDI included talks on research from two studies – one on how people spend their time and their associated risk of developing a heart attack or stroke and one on research into Alzheimer’s and dementia. A great insight for our Year 10 students on how to collect, measure and interrogate data and the ins and outs of doing a PhD or detailed study. We also had a tour and talk on the state-of-the-art four-storey building, including its huge servers and specially-designed heating and cooling system, known as “the labyrinth”. After all that, we enjoyed a presentation by the Head of IT Infrastructure, Dave Ewart, known as the “computer guy”, who gave us the low-down on his role in maintaining equipment for the huge number of staff based at BDI.

Visits to local organisations and businesses included an in-depth session with local web designers, Imageworks; a fascinating tour around cybersecurity company McAfee’s centre in Aylesbury; a talk by the Chief Technology Officer of Micro:bit  Educational Foundation; a tour of Intel UK’s new base in Marlow and the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory; and a problem-solving activity at the offices of Olamalu, a web design company based in Witney.

All in all, the students had an incredible week and we had great feedback:
“Thank you for the amazing insight this week has given me.”
“This has helped me to expand my options and re-think about what specific job roles would suite me in the future”.
“I would highly recommend this STEM week to others because it’s very useful to get an insight and feel of the careers in computer science and technology”.
We must be doing something right!

We would like to thank the Big Data Institute and all the businesses involved in hosting our group of Year 10 students for STEM Insight Week. If your business would like to be involved in any of our upcoming STEM Career programmes for secondary students, find out more here or contact [email protected].

Applications are now open for our next Insight week with a spotlight on Biomedical Sciences Week 25th – 29th  May 2020. Find out more & apply here

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