Teresa Ironside, MBA

Director of Education, Bayes Centre, University of Edinburgh

Tell us about your background and journey to your current role

My background is in administration management within higher education. I moved to Edinburgh from Canada in 2007 and have been working in the University of Edinburgh (UoE) for 12 years.

While nearing the end of my undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto, I worked in administrative roles within the University Health Network first within the Research Ethics Board then supporting research scientists (working with their students and lab members). 

My first UoE role was in the Centre for Systems Biology in the School of Biological Sciences. I studied the MBA programme in the UoE Business School while working, graduating 2012.

I’ve been working in the management of data science related education programmes for six years, first within the School of Informatics as Graduate School Manager during the launch of the Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Data Science, then as Head of Student Services for the School, overseeing support for students form undergraduate level to PhD.

From 2015, I was Development Manager for the Edinburgh Data Science Initiative, working across the University to foster collaboration and bring together data science activity. One of the major outputs of this initiative was the Data Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) postgraduate online learning programme, which has courses contributed from academic units across the University.  

During this role, I split my time with a role as the Chief Operating Officer for the Innovative Healthcare Delivery Programme (IHDP).  Funded by the Scottish Government with operations based in the University, IHDP aims to change the way data and analytics are used to improve health outcomes by developing new relationships between the NHS, industry, academia, and the third sector.

 Alongside my current role as College of Science and Engineering (CSE) Head of Online Learning Development, I am the Director of Education for the Bayes Centre, the University’s data science and artificial intelligence hub for CSE as part of the City Region Deal Data Driven Innovation Programme (DDI). This role builds on the collaborative activity started within Edinburgh Data Science and I work with academic colleagues to develop innovative ways of delivering data science training. The Bayes Education Group stimulates, coordinates and partners in the development and delivery of education-related programmes and projects within DDI and is responsible for delivery of the Talent objectives of the Bayes business case. 

In all of the roles I have undertaken, there have been elements that expand upon my previous roles and experience, along with elements that were new and challenging.


What has been the biggest achievement of your career thus far?

Completing the part-time MBA programme while working full time was hugely challenging but also incredibly rewarding and probably my biggest achievement in my career to date. The experience of studying part-time helped shape further achievements in my career, influencing the online learning programme in Data Science, Technology and Innovation development aimed at working professionals, offering a new flexible way of studying within the University.


Tell us about a typical day at work – what projects are you working on at the moment?

Every day is different which I love but they are typically filled to the brim with meetings!

My days normally involve discussing current data science courses and programmes with commercial partners who might be interested in accessing our flexible curriculum, whilst continuing to develop innovative collaborative courses and programmes with colleagues from across the University. I chair the Bayes Education Group, am a member of the Bayes Executive and Steering Groups, and am a member of several University committees and groups related to online learning.

I chair the Strategy Group for the recently launched Data Science Education Centre of Excellence, working with the Directors of Education and education related colleagues from all DDI Hubs and University academic and professional services colleagues. This University-wide initiative seeks to provide a focal point for all data science education and training bringing experts in student administration management together to work on the step change processes to deliver ambitious data science training initiatives. It will work to ensure the content created benefits the University’s five DDI Hubs and wider University ensuring activities and initiatives are linked to realise the benefits of a growing portfolio. Immediate priorities will include:

(1) landscape mapping of existing courses, programmes, training, and outreach activity along with current methods of delivery; creating and maintaining a portfolio matrix of activity;

(2) working with colleagues across the University to develop processes to streamline the creation of course and programme delivery related to committee structures and system developments, enabling training and curriculum to be developed and delivered at pace and scale. 


What is your vision for data innovation and the DDI programme, if you have one?

Working within data science education is really exciting as there are so many pathways and potential directions and it impacts so many sectors while benefiting society and addressing every day challenges. 

The DDI programme gives the University the opportunity to expand upon the fantastic existing data science courses and programmes, whilst developing new content and curriculum to support the training of a wider range of people, growing the associated benefits and value of data science as a core 21st century discipline.


What are you particularly passionate about in your work?

I am really passionate about lifelong learning and the opportunities learning can bring personally and professionally. I look forward to and can see the potential for data science education to open access for a wide variety of learners, and am excited about the free non-credit and credit-bearing education material currently offered and being developed through the University that will have an impact on many sectors.

I experienced the value in returning to study for an MBA through the UoE Business School while continuing to work full time, which although challenging, was incredibly beneficial.  In addition to the knowledge gained through the programme, it gave me confidence to continue to pursue my career and a wider professional network I am still connected with and I’ve returned to the Business School to take part in additional Executive Education courses since graduating.

I am really proud of our Data Science, Innovation and Technology online learning programme which I was involved in launching and managing, which gives access to UoE postgraduate courses to a wide range of students world-wide. The Programme Team do a fantastic job in supporting students from over 27 countries.  The academic course organisers are really engaged and we receive positive course feedback from students. The flexibility of the programme means students can study while they work and take either a single course to up-skill or build up to an MSc. These options widen participation and open access to students who may not have the option to stop working in order to study full-time but want to improve their career prospects.  

As part of this programme, the team also developed and delivers a free massive open online course (MOOC) in Data Science in Stratified Healthcare and Precision Medicine which runs each month for 5 weeks with a 2-3 hour commitment required each week. We have seen the benefits of this free content in highlighting the value and benefits of data to medical professionals and in showcasing a potential new sector (healthcare) to data scientists. 


Do you work with any interesting data sets, technologies or analysis techniques you’re working with?

As I work from a management perspective on data science education, I do not personally work with data sets or technologies. I have seen some fascinating projects through my roles, such as the improvement of the use of healthcare data and the potential benefits to patients and clinicians, when I was Chief Operating Officer for the Innovative Healthcare Delivery Programme.

I am currently working with UoE academics and colleagues within The Data Lab to launch a free MOOC in Ethics and Responsible Innovation for Data Science with an aim for that to lead onto a MicroMasters (credits taken on their own or to feed into a full Masters) as part of our online learning portfolio of programmes. We are planning to work with industry to bring in real life examples and data sets for use in the course. There appears to be a lot of demand for ethics in data science courses so I’m excited to see this develop.


What do you think are the biggest challenges for women and girls in your field?

I personally did not focus on STEM subjects when I was young and it is something I really regret. I think there is possibly still a stigma around data science as a technical area that might not be suited to women, which I think is a challenge. I would love to see girls encouraged to participate in science and technology from an earlier age with practical, hands on activities. I think there have been improvements since I was young, but we still have some way to go.  It was not until many years after University (where I studied Arts and Humanities) that I found I really enjoyed web development, which I taught myself in-post as I developed a new HTML/CSS website. I would never have guessed I’d enjoy this type of work had I not tried it and I wonder if I would have been driven in a different direction had I learned earlier on. Some of the targets and commitments set out within the DDI programme will help us to close this gap, and commit to better engage with women and girls across many sectors, from primary school age upwards.


What would you recommend to women and girls who’d like to do what you’re doing?

Working within the University has been really rewarding and there are many paths that can be taken for career development opportunities. I started within administration, worked and studied to move into management roles and am working in a subject area I am passionate about. Though I am not technically trained in data science, I have learned so much while working with data science courses and programmes from a business management perspective.  I would really encourage women and girls to work to understand the value of data and explore the many options available to work and have an impact in this area.

If they have an interest in working more specifically with data science, there are many flexible study options for women in work, women returners, and those at any stage of their career to benefit from the use of data either within their current career or in a new career direction. I am planning to and looking forward to taking some of the courses we are developing!


Do you have a fun fact about yourself and hero/heroine you would be willing to share?

So, a fun fact – I’m first generation Canadian within my family (my father was born in Italy and my mother in Argentina to Italian parents – both immigrated to Canada as children), though I am now a permanent resident in Scotland.

I am hugely in awe of Gillian Docherty, OBE, CEO of The Data Lab. I have watched The Data Lab grow and flourish under her leadership and it is inspiring to see someone so driven and passionate about what they do. She has helped to raise awareness of the amazing data science work throughout Scottish Universities and Industry in addition to helping to build this activity and is always a positive ambassador.  Together with her dedicated team (who she continually thanks) The Data Lab has funded and supported a huge number of studentships, projects, learning journeys, and events in order to build data science knowledge and expertise throughout Scotland with a strong international reputation.


How do you relax and have fun?

I love to travel and explore new countries and enjoy sampling local food throughout. I travelled through Europe with my husband last year in a Classic Mini stopping in 6 countries over two weeks down to Monaco then back up to Scotland. It was a busy trip but so much fun seeing so much along the way – the drive through the Alps was absolutely breath-taking!  

Image of Theresa Ironside
Picture by Lesley Martin, interviewed by Poppy Gerrard-Abbott

Working within data science education is really exciting as there are so many pathways and potential directions and it impacts so many sectors, while benefiting society and addressing every day challenges

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