Undertaking an online data science degree to design better environmental solutions

Adalberto presenting at a conference, drawing on his learning during his degree. Photo courtesy of Adalberto Guerra Cabrera

In this post, Adalberto Guerra Cabrera, an MSc student at The University of Edinburgh and a Senior R&D consultant at Integrated Environmental Solutions, reveals how undertaking an online Masters in Data Science Technology helps his work on developing energy-efficient buildings…

I currently work for a company that uses data for reducing the impact of buildings on the environment. My original background is in green buildings and energy efficiency. with some expertise on computers and scripting languages. About three years ago, I started searching for online data science programmes with the intention of not only doing my everyday work more efficiently but in gaining experience in the use of tools that can help me extract information from data – the goal being to eventually dedicate more time to what matters: finding solutions to problems in buildings.

After a long search, I found the Bayes Centre’s Data Science Technology and Innovation (DSTI) programme, and applied for it. A few weeks later, I was notified that I was admitted into the Postgraduate Certificate Programme and accepted the opportunity. Before officially starting the programme, I took short online courses on Python programming to avoid the steep learning curve, which turned out to be a good plan.

At first, finding the time for reviewing the course materials and doing the practical assessments was challenging since, like most people, I am very busy with work, sports and my social life. However, I managed to include study time after work and over the weekends. My preferred study place is the Glasgow University library that I can access any day of the year (even during exam periods) thanks to my SCONUL access, a membership scheme to all academic and national libraries in the UK and Ireland. I dedicate about ten hours per week to studying to ensure that I am up to date with courses and assignments, and more time before deadlines and final exams.

Over the last two years, I have studied topics related to high performance computing, machine learning (ML), object-oriented programming, data visualisation, computer vision, performance modelling, optimisation, and more. I extensively use the university’s online resources such as the library (DiscoverEd) and LinkedIn Learning. One of the advantages of studying while working is that sometimes it is possible to directly apply what you have learnt at work. Python and ML have become part of my everyday job to the point that I have written and presented papers that involved knowledge gained in the courses (see photo).

Taking final exams as a distance student is a unique experience. While I do have to study and prepare for them as any on-campus student, I have the freedom to decide where to present the examination. In the last years, I have taken exams in a meeting room at work, at The University of Edinburgh and while on holiday in Italy. While it is not required for a student to ever physically attend the university, in my first year I decided to have the experience of taking an exam with my peers. I took a train from Glasgow and used my student ID to sit the exam like the rest of the students. I must say that I was very nervous and it reminded of my past student years. It was definitely a worthwhile experience, nonetheless. On the other hand, during my second year, I presented two final exams while on holiday in Italy, but I’ll admit that finding a reliable internet connection was a challenge. This year, I am planning to take my final exam in a meeting room at work where I am guaranteed a reliable internet connection.

After completing the required number of credits for a PG Certification, I decided to continue with my studies and pursue an MSc in Data Science. Today, I am preparing my dissertation work, which will hopefully be submitted in summer 2020 to the School of Informatics. I am looking forward to completing my degree, and my plan is to attend to the graduation ceremony in Edinburgh, I cannot wait!

Overall, I don’t regret the decision of going back to grad school. While it is sometimes a demanding task, I can feel the positive impact that these studies have on my professional career and, most importantly, in my personal fight for reducing the carbon footprint and environmental impact of buildings.

Adalberto Guerra Cabrera

Adalberto is currently DSTI MSc student at The University of Edinburgh and a Senior R&D consultant at Integrated Environmental Solutions, LTD in Glasgow UK. His areas of expertise include building data analytics, energy efficiency and building energy simulations. He holds a Masters Degree in Sustainable Design and a BEng in Civil Engineering.

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