Our new interview series shines a light on what it’s like to work at RDS.
Meet Shona McElroy, a Senior Project Manager in Research Data Scotland’s Programmes and Data Acquisitions Team, and hear about what difference she hopes RDS will make.
What’s your role at RDS and what are you working on?
I’m a senior project manager and am working on some systems transformation projects that will speed up the process of getting data to researchers and make it possible to carry out more research projects. It's quite technical and involves collaboration with a number of people and organisations that are all specialists in data for research, data storage and security and data linkage.
What does your typical workday involve?
It’s pretty varied but always starts with a dog walk and a coffee. For example, today I’ll be liaising with RDS colleagues who are specialists in public engagement about hosting a conversation with members of a public panel about some proposed changes to how data is provided to researchers.
I’ll also be speaking to our Information Governance specialists about the implications of changes and carry out a risk assessment so that we’re sure that any changes are secure and protect people’s privacy. I'm also finalising details for a collaborative workshop we have planned with our partners later in the week.
What’s your background and how does it give you additional insight to your work at RDS?
I have always been interested in changing society for the better and that led me to become involved in running social entrepreneurship and innovation programmes following a degree in business.
I got more involved in consulting and projects that were about changing how systems worked – so impact investment, high impact philanthropy, and collaborative change projects with communities in Scotland, Australia and New Zealand – I lived in the latter for 10 years before returning to Edinburgh.
My work at RDS has similarities because it’s about making improvements to how people and organisations work together to make impact happen, only this time it’s with data.
What’s a highlight and a challenge of working with data?
I’ve been learning about data over the last few years, and I’ve embarked on a MSc with University of Edinburgh in Data Science, Technology and Innovation. Studying and working at the same time can be a challenge but I can use what I learn almost immediately, so that’s helpful.
I think one of the other challenges is the hidden complexity of turning data that’s used operationally within government into clean, useful data for research that meets all the highest standards of privacy. There’s more to it than I first thought and it’s fascinating to learn.
What difference do you hope RDS will make?
I’m most interested in the insights that can come from data that lead to evidence-informed change in how we do things in society, whether that’s policy change or where money is invested by public, private or third sector sources. I care most about how this work will impact the people of Scotland and beyond.
Who, real-life or public figure, has inspired or motivated you in your career or life?
This might seem obvious to people that have been involved with data for a while but for me it’s Ada Lovelace. I was so inspired when I learned about her that I called my dog after her! I’m always interested in pioneers, and especially those that are canny, insightful and are not the usual suspects. Some of the greatest thinkers and doers I’ve met come from the less obvious places or backgrounds. These people are often not heard or recognised until the true value of their contribution becomes apparent. Ada Lovelace is that to me.
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