Dr Jasmina Lazic

Chief Data Technologist, the Bayes Centre

Tell us about your background and journey to your current role
I had an avid curiosity for puzzles and problem-solving as a young child, and this drove me towards mathematics. I completed my Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics and Computer Science at the University of Belgrade before undertaking a PhD in Mathematics at Brunel University London. My passion for using mathematics to improve the world around us was my driving force to begin a career in technology. In my current role as Chief Data Technologist at the Bayes Centre, I lead, facilitate and enable the commercial adoption of cutting-edge data science and technology developed at the University of Edinburgh, to foster new collaborative partnerships between the University and industry partners. I get to work with clients who use cutting-edge technology solutions, from satellites and robots to self-driving cars.
What I find most rewarding about my career is using science and technology to improve our lives and society.

Tell us about a typical day at work – what projects are you working on at the moment?
The best part of my job is that there is no typical day at work. One day I may be talking to a satellite company about using satellite imagery for crop monitoring, another day I may be talking to veterinary scientists about using data science to monitor livestock well-being in Africa, or to aircraft engineers about using AI to cut down on maintenance time. I get to meet so many brilliant people across so many different areas of industry, and learn new things almost every day.

What is your vision for data innovation and the DDI programme?
I see the DDI programme as a fantastic way of democratising data science and innovation, and a great channel for cutting edge technology adoption for companies and businesses.

What are you particularly passionate about in your work?
I am passionate about helping people solve their big challenges with innovative technology solutions. There are many exciting developments in the fields of Artificial Intelligence, Sensors, Smart Technology and Robotics – to name just a few. A caveat there is that, while the opportunities and possibilities that these technologies are opening up may seem endless, they also open up some critical ethical and moral questions. That said, understanding and tackling the ethical problems arising from the new technology is a profound challenge in itself.

Do you work with any interesting data sets, technologies or analysis techniques you’re working with?
Absolutely – software platform for downloading high-quality satellite data with high refresh rates.

And do you have any particularly interesting projects going on right now or are they top-secret?
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are doing some impressive work in sub-Saharan Africa on helping farmers, communities and governments with livestock production. Together with researchers from the Royal Dick School of Veterinary Sciences and SEBI (Supporting Evidence Based Interventions) program, we are using data driven approaches to help them understand the effectiveness and impact of their initiatives and methodologies. For example, providing recommendations on vaccines, feeding, artificial insemination, based on in-depth data processing and analytics. We are also looking at incorporating new and innovative data sources into these approaches, such as satellite imagery and/or sensors and the Internet of Things.

What do you think are the biggest challenges for women and girls in your field?
We live in a culture where (over)confidence and sometimes, sadly, arrogance, are often mistaken for competence. I would like to see more appreciation for humility and more effort toward building collaborative, rather than competitive, working environments.

What would you recommend to women and girls who’d like to do what you’re doing?
Build a good supportive career network. Look out for mentors and sponsors. A mentor is someone who can coach you, provide advice, or simply serve as a good role model. A sponsor is someone who can raise your profile and help you with career promotion. They are not necessarily the same person. And they are not necessarily your manager – although, if your manager is also your mentor and/or sponsor, you are in a great position. The more mentors and sponsors you have, the better.

Do you have a fun fact about yourself?
Every year on my birthday, I have a tradition of visiting a place I have never been to before.

Wow! Where did you go last year and what is in store for next year?
It was driving across the Atlantic Road in Norway last year. This time round it will be a tour of Scottish Isles – I am still learning so much about Scotland!

Do you have a hero or heroine?
Hero: Elon Musk – one of the greatest minds of our time, who makes anything seem possible.

What are your future ambitions? Are you a believer in 5-year plans?
Can I quote writer and cartoonist Allen Saunders here? “Life is what happens to us while we are busy making other plans.” (This quote is often wrongly attributed to John Lennon, who worked this phrase into his song “Beautiful Boy”.)

On a more serious note, my current mission is to advance technical engagements between University of Edinburgh and industry. This will progress the adoption of data science and technology in the region and beyond and drive innovation. There is a lot of work to be done there, so that should keep me busy for a while. That said, as I am getting involved in so many exciting projects, it is quite possible that one of those may take me to the next chapter of my career.

Image of Dr Jasmina Lazic
Picture by Lesley Martin, interview Poppy Gerrard-Abbott

I am passionate about helping people solve their big challenges with innovative technology solutions

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