Career Profile: Emily Poskett, Head of International Development at the UK Office For National Statistics

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Career profile

Emily studied for a BSc in Mathematics at the University of Sheffield, and later undertook a Diploma in Development Studies at Birkbeck, University of London and a MMaths in Official Statistics at the University of Southampton. Emily is now Head of International Development for the UK’s national statistics office.  

How did you get into your current line of work?

I joined the Government Statistics Service Fast Stream after university, and moved into the Department for International Development as a fast stream statistician. I then spent 15 years in the Department for International Development, working on statistical capacity building in partner countries, and on to the department’s use of data for effective planning, monitoring and evaluation. I moved across to the Office for National Statistics in 2016 to set up their international development team

What does an average day involve in your job?

I lead the international development programme, taking overall decisions on where we should invest Office for National Statistics skills in supporting partner countries. My team deliver technical and strategic advice to national statistical offices in developing countries, in a range of areas, and my role is to decide how Office for National Statistics resource can be used to greatest effect, working with the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

What sorts of data and data software skills do you need in your job?

My team have all the technical skills, they are involved in everything from census and survey design, statistical training, data science projects using R and Python. I don’t use technical skills myself but I need to understand the basic principles of what they are doing!

How and when did you develop your data skills?

At university as well as on the job in my various fast stream posts and in work training courses.

What skills do you need to use alongside your data skills in your job?

A deep understanding of international development: the context, the key players, and the available evidence on what works in building capability. As well as people management, project management and decision making.

What advice would you give undergraduates aspiring to a data-related role in the International Development sector?

The opportunities are plentiful, but there are no clear career pathways. You will need to hone both your statistical skills and your understanding of applying these in developing country contexts. Take all opportunities to develop both.

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