Ioana Ciucă

I have learnt a considerable amount about time series analysis and how to think about bias in a machine learning model properly.

Fact file

  • Graduate researcher in Astrophysics at University College London.
  • Upon completing my PhD in Autumn 2020, I will start a fellowship position at the Australian National University, where I will work on understanding the formation and evolution history of our galactic home, the Milky Way.
  • For the next few years, I also plan to work relentlessly to build a mentorship platform with personalised feedback aimed explicitly at children coming from impoverished backgrounds.
  • 2020 DSSG Summer project group: OFSTED.

What is a social cause you care about deeply?

I care deeply about improving access to quality education and mentorship for children coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. I know first-hand how difficult it is to escape the struggle caused by childhood hardship, and it extends far beyond working hard and shiny achievements.

In my case, it took a great deal of luck and privilege to meet exceptional people who became my mentors and gave me access to great resources and work opportunities that changed my life for the better. But not many children across the world get to have that golden ticket.

Children growing up in low-income households in the United Kingdom attain lower levels of educational outcomes, and many suffer from physical and mental health problems. As adults, they struggle to escape the cycle of poverty with significantly reduced employment opportunities and no proper systems of support. There is no immediate or straightforward solution to tackle this reality.

However, we can start by working with local communities and leverage technology to design frameworks of real support. As Hilary Cottam brilliantly argues, we need to imagine solutions that provide radical help, rather than fixating on patching systems that no longer serve us. We can do better.

What have you found the most interesting so far when working with OFSTED?

Without a doubt, the most interesting part about working with my team OFSTED is working collaboratively in a completely remote environment. I am also very humbled and inspired by our commitment as a team to try our best to build a reliable data-driven solution that benefits young people across the United Kingdom.

On a personal note, I feel so grateful to be surrounded by such a supportive group of people consisting of our mentors, our manager and our project director. They guide us along the way with their patience and vast knowledge, while at the same time instilling in us a sense of working towards a purpose that impacts other people in a meaningful way.

When you're not working, what can you be found doing?

Outside work, I enjoy reading, drawing, meditating and listening to jazz or blues. You can find me sometimes on a bench in Regent’s Park in London “goodnight-ing” the sun at sunset while listening to Robert Johnson. I also like travelling to new places and learning about peoples’ journeys, stories and the depths they hold inside.

What skills have you gained so far on the DSSGx summer project programme and working with OFSTED?

Working with our partner OFSTED, I learnt about the importance of context behind a data science project, which is essential to the way we design pipelines that benefit the people, in our case children under the age of five. Our focus is on understanding the implications of the outcome of our model, which goes beyond maximising metrics or using state-of-the-art methods.

When it comes to the technical aspect, I refined my coding and statistics skills. For example, I have learnt a considerable amount about time series analysis and how to think about bias in a machine learning model properly. Beyond the technical aspect, I am continually learning to be a productive and accountable team member while developing my time management skills.

What blog, podcast or book does everyone need to be aware of?

With the words of Franz Kafka in mind that “a book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us”, I would recommend two books, namely The Man Died: Prison Notes of Wole Soyinka by Wole Soyinka and The Journal of Happiness by Nicolae Steinhardt.

What would be your dream industry/ sector to work in? How do you think your involvement in the DSSG could help you get there?

I would love to work in the education system either as an educator or policymaker so that I can support young people in their learning process. Through DSSG, I regularly interact with an incredible community of people who share a similar drive and who are not afraid to challenge both themselves and the world around them by asking the tough questions. Being surrounded by such people gives me the confidence and courage to pursue the kind of work I connect with the most.

To this end, having a great deal of exposure to policymakers and the nature of their work is also incredibly helpful.