Career Change from Data Science?

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rebeccaroisin
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Career Change from Data Science?

Post by rebeccaroisin » Sun Sep 08, 2019 12:59 pm

Hey everyone,

This is my first post, so please be kind to a newbie :)

I've recently made the decision to attempt a career change to Clinical Psychology.

My undergraduate degree (2:i) is in Chemistry and I also have a PhD in biophysical chemistry (Cambridge). I have a couple of first-author papers from this degree. During my PhD I did a lot of programming for data analysis and then worked as a Data Scientist and programmer for 4 years in industry.

I'm now working part-time as an HCA in a CAMHS inpatient unit and adult acute inpatient ward (private provider but beds in both wards are all commissioned by the NHS) and will be starting a 1-year BPS-accredited Psychology conversion degree at the end of September. This will be a full-time course, but I intend to keep working 1 or 2 HCA shifts per week if the course workload allows it. I volunteer with a local bereavement charity (I provide 1:1 support sessions in a 10-week structured format to people who are struggling after a bereavement) and with the Samaritans, and have past experience of volunteering with children with an autism spectrum disorder.

The reasons why I want to make this career change are:
- I have benefited enormously from both CBT and trauma therapy to process some extremely difficult things that have happened in my life. The process of undergoing these therapies and looking critically at my experiences and how they have shaped my mental model of the world was extremely challenging but very rewarding. I benefited enormously from therapy and would like to work in a profession that can help others in this way - whether with similar challenges or very different ones
- My own experiences of mental health challenges have led me to read a lot about this area. I am fascinated by understanding how our mental health is shaped by so many different factors. I've always read a lot about psychology and neurology just for pure interest, but I never considered it a possible career path until I realised that I was working in the wrong place and asked myself what I would rather do instead
- I really like how clinical psychology keeps a tight loop between research and clinical practice – so that research is clinically relevant, and so clinical practice remains informed by recent research

I know that getting onto the doctoral training program is incredibly competitive, so I have a couple of questions:
- At the moment, I'm focussing on getting clinical work experience – working as an HCA now and intending to apply for AP positions as soon as I am close to the end of my conversion degree – as I already have research experience (although not in psychology). Is that a sensible approach?
- What sort of diversity of clinical experience should I be aiming for? I will be a better candidate for AP posts with populations I have worked with previously, but I don't want to have a focus that is too narrow?
- Finally, am I totally wrong to want to change career like this? I'm going with a “shoot for the moon, land among the stars” approach – clinical psychology is my goal, but if I follow that path and end up working in something related I hope I will also find it a rewarding career.

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Spatch
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Re: Career Change from Data Science?

Post by Spatch » Mon Sep 09, 2019 2:50 pm

I know that getting onto the doctoral training program is incredibly competitive, so I have a couple of questions:
- At the moment, I'm focussing on getting clinical work experience – working as an HCA now and intending to apply for AP positions as soon as I am close to the end of my conversion degree – as I already have research experience (although not in psychology). Is that a sensible approach?
- What sort of diversity of clinical experience should I be aiming for? I will be a better candidate for AP posts with populations I have worked with previously, but I don't want to have a focus that is too narrow?
- Finally, am I totally wrong to want to change career like this? I'm going with a “shoot for the moon, land among the stars” approach – clinical psychology is my goal, but if I follow that path and end up working in something related I hope I will also find it a rewarding career.
I think everyone will have their various perspectives on this, and getting an AP after HCA is certainly not going to hurt your chances.

I would advise you to take a step back and think carefully about how you may want to 'package' yourself. The vast majority of applicants are going to be coming from a traditional degree/conversion->support role->AP/IAPT->DClin route with a view to focusing on the mental health & therapy route. Some will have the odd publication but by and large they will be selling courses roughly the same things. You can take that route, sell youreself on those terms and compete with the pack.

Alternatively, the skills in data science, hard science and programming are in really short supply in psychology and could really carve out a valuable clinical psychology niche that few will be able to replicate. If you think about some of the future challenges set out in policy and strategy documents (like 5 year forward view and the like), you will notice the increased emphasis on integrated technology, digital and better use of big data in application to clinical practice.

Assuming you are able to meet the basic criteria of clinical, reflective and people skills, focusing on how you would deploy your existing skillset in a way that would add value would stand you out from the crowd. Especially in research, consultancy, senior development and policy levels that can open up later on in a clinical psychologists career. Granted, those aren't going to be common Band 7 CAMHS psychology roles, but they are likely to have wider impact.

So how do you do that? going for more clinical-research posts may be one way, where you develop a clinical skillset as well as a psychological research CV. There may be something about liaising with psychologists who work on those fringes already and see what you can contribute. Or approaching larger organisations that may be engaging in mental health projects where you can carve out a clinical and data focused role.

To give you a more concrete example, as someone who is developing a new psychological pathway from scratch, generating their own data and incorporating it with other datasets within and outside the organisation, those skills would be very valuable to have in my team in a few years time. If I had the money, I would create an low level clinical work/ high level data analysis AP role in a second.
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rebeccaroisin
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Re: Career Change from Data Science?

Post by rebeccaroisin » Tue Sep 10, 2019 7:33 am

Hi Spatch,

Thank you for such a detailed and helpful reply!

I'll reply in more detail later (today or tomorrow) when I'm not working, but I just wanted to thank you promptly for writing such a considered response!

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miriam
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Re: Career Change from Data Science?

Post by miriam » Fri Sep 13, 2019 3:17 pm

Well, I read your post and thought "that is a good set of skills for what we are doing, I wonder where she lives?" because as Spatch said, your skills will be great when thinking about the non-clinical elements of the role that so many applicants see as an afterthought. You might like my blog entry "I am not a therapist" (link to blog in my signature, then search back). But I say it sounds like a good plan :)
Miriam

See my blog at http://clinpsyeye.wordpress.com

rebeccaroisin
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Re: Career Change from Data Science?

Post by rebeccaroisin » Fri Sep 13, 2019 8:28 pm

Hi Spatch and Miriam,

Here's my longer reply to your really helpful posts …

Firstly thank you for your replies – it's really reassuring to hear that my data skills will be in demand in psychology. This is something that was in my mind in making a career change – I enjoy programming and using these skills, but I'd prefer to spend the next 30 years of my career using them in a field that I really care about. I had thought that this was something that I'd be able to do once I was 'inside' a psychology career, but your comments showed me that this is something that I can and should start doing now.

For me, I think that there are 2 key things that I need to do.

Firstly, I need to make sure I have all of the basic clinical and reflective skills down. A few months working as an HCA has shown me that there is no substitute for basic clinical experience and also no substitute for seeing how things work from the bottom up. For example, I have decent people skills, but the skills that I need day-to-day on a mental health ward are very different from the ones that I used in a technical office job and developing them to the level I want takes time. It's been really interesting to see how different members of the MDT go about developing therapeutically meaningful relationships with the people they care for and finding an approach that works for me. In my current role, I'd say that being an HCA is just as valuable as being an AP: the amount of patient contact time we have is much higher, which gives more opportunity to develop good relationships; I get to see both how things should work (MDT meeting notes, policies), how they work in practice in the ward environments; and how and why discrepancies impact patient care. If I end up in a much more data / policy role later in my career, I will be much more effective for having a practical understanding of how things work from the ground up.

Secondly, I need to be demonstrating that I can use my data skills right now in a psychology context. I can partly do that by seeking out a really good, data-heavy MSc dissertation project. However, I can also look for open access data that I can work with; I can look for opportunities to work with researchers who have data analysis needs (realistically this is probably post-MSc); I can write about process issues that I see in my current role etc etc.

Finally, I love the analogy of the psychological structural engineer from Miriam's blog – this is exactly what draws me to clinical psychology. I do want to be able to deliver effective therapy, but I also want to be able to improve the whole therapeutic setting. For example, where I currently work, a child in an in-patient CAMHS unit may see their therapist for 1-2 hours a week (generous estimate), but is in the ward environment 24/7 (give or take leave). To me, the role of the Clinical Psychologist in that setting should extend beyond delivering 1:1 therapy and should contribute to making the whole ward experience therapeutic for these young people.

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miriam
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Re: Career Change from Data Science?

Post by miriam » Fri Sep 13, 2019 11:42 pm

Good approach. And if you want to get involved with what I'm doing with data-driven improvements to children's social care, get in touch.
Miriam

See my blog at http://clinpsyeye.wordpress.com

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Re: Career Change from Data Science?

Post by hawke » Sat Sep 14, 2019 8:33 am

I am a current trainee, also from a science degree background and a love of playing with numbers and information, although I can't profess to have the same level of skill. I have found that my interest in using data to improve services has not been shared by other trainees, who are much more interested in the therapeutic angle at this stage. I've even had a mixed reception from qualified psychologists, and an outright hostile reaction from some service managers. So definitely, I think your skills would be a USP for your application.

A useful thing to reflect on would be how to bring other people alongside you. The NHS is not quick to change, and data is often not persuasive enough by itself. Mental health can be a very 'feelings' world, and I have often felt the odd one out for having different priorities. So what skills are you going to need to translate your data skills into real change in this kind of environment?

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Spatch
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Re: Career Change from Data Science?

Post by Spatch » Sat Sep 14, 2019 10:38 am

I am a current trainee, also from a science degree background and a love of playing with numbers and information, although I can't profess to have the same level of skill. I have found that my interest in using data to improve services has not been shared by other trainees, who are much more interested in the therapeutic angle at this stage. I've even had a mixed reception from qualified psychologists, and an outright hostile reaction from some service managers.
Yeah, I was struck by that when I was a trainee too. Having come from a more science PhD background, I was at odds with many of my therapy focussed peers and superiors. However, in the long game it has worked out better for me, as I never have to worry about managers viewing me as an "overpriced therapists" like psychologist have been seen in some services.

I have come to understand the hostility often comes out of a fear; either that they don't have that aptitude themselves therefore devalue it, or that they are worried your analysis will find something out that will expose them. It is unlikely that the view is shared across the whole organisation though, and I would even go as far as saying that in 2019 anywhere that is hostile to data from the top downwards won't survive very long...
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Irrelevant Experience: The Secret Diary of an Assistant Psychologist is available at Amazon
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Irrelevant-Expe ... 00EQFE5JW/

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Re: Career Change from Data Science?

Post by Geishawife » Sat Sep 14, 2019 11:54 am

Well, I have no advice to offer over and above what has already been said, but I felt compelled to post and say how refreshing it is to read this post and its replies. First of all, it's lovely to see someone looking at the profession from this vantage point and being so creative about what their skills offer. I think every profession benefits from a "shake up" here and there, our's being no exception, and I enjoyed reading this post from that perspective. Secondly (and I hope this is not too controversial) it was so nice to hear someone say how important gaining skills "from the bottom up" is. All too often, would be trainees fail to grasp this and want to plunge head long into AP posts or training without recognising that some of the most important skills they'll need are better developed a little lower down the scale. I've even heard graduates say they didn't study for 3 years to get paid to dress people or take them shopping! Failing totally to recognise the vital skills you could develop doing precisely that!
So, thank you opening this thread and, I suspect, giving hope and encouragement to others who don't see themselves quite "ticking the boxes" but still have a passion for the profession.

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