Monday, 31 March 2014

Week 2 at POST

After my first weekend making the most of being in London: an amazing trip to “Matilda” at the theatre on Saturday and finding a cyclingclub on Sunday, I headed in for my second week at POST.
On arrival, I discovered a flurry of e-mails confirming that Lydia and I would be interviewing some academics from Warwick Business School tomorrow at 10am! I arranged to meet with Lydia to discuss what questions we would plan to ask. I’m quite glad I had my first interview alongside someone else, acting as a nice stepping stone! I spent a while researching the expertise of the academics, so I knew what the best thing to ask them about would be. After discussion with Lydia, we knew what the main questions we wanted to ask were, and because I’d looked up their research, I was responsible for asking them about that.
I also had a go at drafting my scoping document, although I was planning on waiting until after the interview to finalise what was going to go in to my POSTnote. The scoping document is a one page summary that you send out to interviewees, giving them an idea about what you want to cover in your note and therefore an indication about what you might want to ask them.
After finding out about a Big Data Masterclass in York, I sent a few e-mails and managed to arrange an interview with the speaker once the masterclass had finished. Two interviews booked already!
Computing Summit are holding a Big Data Summit on Thursday in London which I’m going along to, so I looked at the list of speakers to see who I would like to speak to.
Alongside this, next week is “Heritage Week” in the Houses, so I had a look at which of the events we might go along to.
There was no need for me to be nervous about my first interview! Both of the academics were extremely talkative and helpful. Lydia and I learnt a lot and the conversation really helped to give me an idea about what might go into my note. I then had to write up my scribbled notes so that they can be saved officially on the SPIRE database. This means that anyone in the future can look and see who you’ve spoken to and what was discussed.
Instead of eating lunch with the other POST fellows today, I went over to a restaurant on the estate and met a friend who knows people who are working for MPs.
After lunch, I met with Lydia to discuss my scope, and we decided that instead of focussing on one sector, the note might follow a story of the lifetime of a product, and how big data can influence the process at each stage. After our conversation with the Warwick academics, we decided that the financial services should be included.
I spent the rest of the afternoon finishing writing up the interview and searching the parliamentary records for any mention of big data, high performance computing and storecards! This is so we can see what issues parliamentarians are discussing, and therefore what they might want to hear about in the note.
I finished my first draft of my scope today and sent it off to Lydia for a read through. I then spent the rest of the day finding more details about different companies using big data and trying to get contact details from those who might be interesting to talk to. Moving from the area of academia, where you can find someone’s e-mail address very easily, I soon discovered that finding contact details for industry members is next to impossible!!
I spent my Wed evening at the Science Museum "Lates" - I saw a science comedy show and had a great time playing on the exhibits with some friends from Oxford. I will definitely be going back!
On Thursday I went to the Hilton Tower Bridge for the Computing Big Data Summit. This was a great event for me to go to, as the range of speakers gave me an overview to the potential applications and the challenges faced by a variety of businesses. I used every break to meet as many people as possible, collecting a lot of business cards and e-mail addresses! This gave me a nice list of potential interviewees who I could send my scope on to.
I began by updating my contact list with all the contacts I’d made the day before. I then was able to assess the list, dividing the people up into people I can and want to contact, those who I would love to talk to but can’t get information for, and those who actually might not fit into the scope of the note.
I met with Lydia and Abbi to discuss the latest version of my scope, and had a discussion about the areas that might be covered by other notes, and also who I had met on Thursday who might be interesting for other people to talk to.
I also booked a tour to go up Big Ben next week! The tours start at the bottom of the tower, and get you to the top just in time to hear the “bongs” by the bells. I’m booked onto the 11:15 tour – so maximum bongs!!

After 2 weeks at POST, I’m having a great time - massive thanks to the EPSRC for giving me the opportunity. It’s interesting to be researching a completely new area, and seeing how broad the applications of using big data really can be. This weekend, I’m off to BeFitLondon: a women’s fitness event which should be fun! 

Monday, 24 March 2014

Week One at POST

Diary of a POSTie
Thanks to sponsorship from the EPSRC, I am embarking on a 3 month placement with the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST). POST write scientific briefing documents for parliamentarians, based on the literature and interviews with academics, industry and 3rd parties. Their purpose is to provide evidence and inform, but not give recommendations. My POSTnote will have the topic “Big Data in Business”. I plan to update my blog once a week, so everyone can see what I get up to!
Week 1
Day 1
I arrived at POST on Monday morning in gorgeous sunshine and met Lydia Harriss, who will be supervising me throughout my stay. POST is based in 7 Millbank and has about half a dozen offices, with permanent staff and quite a few postgraduate fellows – other people on similar programmes to me. I will be based in an office with two other fellows and one permanent staff member during my 3 months.  After some crawling around to try and locate the right Ethernet cable and socket, I was set up with my parliamentary account and computer. I started (as you do) by checking my e-mails and discovered I already had a timetable clash! A conference on Big Data at UCL and my tour of parliament both booked for the 7th April! I was then given a tour of POST and introduced to a lot of people. At the moment, the fellows working in POST almost outnumber the permanent staff: it’s great that almost everyone is in a similar situation to me, just a few weeks ahead. This means that any concerns about the POSTnote writing process can be answered easily by one of the other fellows.
Mark (another fellow who works in the same office as me) took me and another new starter Anusha over to “the Palace” to get our permanent access cards. After a long wait, we had a quick walk through to Portcullis house and then back to the cafeteria at POST for lunch and a post-lunch coffee at Ravello's. The fellows eat together in the cafeteria everyday – it’s nice to chat and see what everyone does for their research and in their spare time. From vaccines to ecology, we have a broad range of backgrounds!
I spent the afternoon reading up on Big Data, trying to work out what it is and how it relates to businesses before we headed off at 4:30 ish to go to a networking event in Portcullis house. The event was the last part of a workshop that had been going on all afternoon, and by the time we got there most people had gone! We chatted to someone from RCUK who seemed optimistic about our future job prospects in the world of science in policy whilst helping them finish the drinks they’d provided for the reception…
I then went off to join the gym! Only, a 15 minute walk away in Victoria, and only £30 per month for a student.
Day 2
After a pre-work swim, I arrived at POST and soon headed off for training on the parliamentary IT system SPIRE. This system is used to ensure that all documents and communications can be saved in a logical manner, particularly useful for POST with their high turnover of fellows.
I spent the day reading about big data, finding examples of companies that have used it productively. The day finished off with popping into Portcullis house to see William Hague give evidence to a select committee on UK foreign policy. As you do…!
Day 3
Started off weirdly, with a spin class in the dark! Apparently that’s how they do it here…
I discovered both the BBC and the Guardian are running long term features on big data, so I caught up with what they had already published. I then began thinking about a potential structure for my POSTnote, before meeting with Lydia. We had a really good discussion – she started by introducing me to how POST fits into parliament (not government!) and then we talked about the note for a while, giving me lots of ideas and things to look up.
Day 4
I finally remembered to bring in my earphones, so spent most of the morning listening to videos and audio clips on the topic of big data that I had bookmarked. At the same time I managed to collate my research so far and make some headway on making a structure.
At lunch, we went over to the palace to have a quick walk around – went to Westminster Hall, the lobby in with the entrance to the houses in and onto the roof! The lift to the roof is wood panelled!!
Started compiling a summary document combining all the case studies I had scribbled in my notebooks and after an afternoon tea break at ravello's I finished it off.
Day 5
Found out on arrival of my colleagues that Friday is apparently dress down Friday! As I missed my alarm, it was lucky I was wearing any clothes at all… I also heard that my leave of absence from UoB has been accepted, pushing my finish date back to Christmas day 2015!
I met with Lydia to discuss how the structure of the note was coming along, and she gave me a bit more detail about the purpose of a POSTnote and how they are normally structured. She also encouraged me to attend select committees, debates and Prime Minister’s Questions to get a flavour of parliament and make the most of the full access pass we get as part of the placement. Our passes only work with a PIN code, and the doors at 7 Millbank are like pods – so only one person can fit in at once. Whenever I leave, I feel I should emerge from it dressed like a superhero!
After lunch I had a re-structure of my note, and added where I had found case studies that might fit in. Lydia also cced me in some communications with academics asking if they would mind us interviewing them: we might have one on Tuesday!

On Fridays, there is no sitting in the houses and so you can go in to have a look. So on our way home, we went into both houses and had a good look around, before celebrating the end of our first week with some G&Ts in the House of Lords bar made with special House of Lords gin!