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Alison Whitaker

Favourite Thing: I love thinking of methods and finding stories in data that are useful in applied, practical ways that mean something to different types of people – not just scientists. I also like to get involved in science engagement projects – in 2012 I hula-hooped around the UK as part of a public health behaviour project.

My CV

Education:

London Metropolitan University: 2013-14, TrinityLaban Conservatoire: 2010-11, University of Salford: 2007-10, The Hammond School of Dance: 2000-07 (secondary & 6th form)

Qualifications:

PGCert. Higher Education, MSc. Dance Science, BSc.(Hons) Sport Rehabilitation

Work History:

Technology Researcher and Project Anlayst at The British Museum, Lecturer at London Metropolitan University, Researcher and Project Coordinator at London Arts in Health Forum, Manager at Springs Dance Company

Current Job:

Data Scientist in Residence

Employer:

The Arts Data Impact Project: Barbican, National Theatre, English National Opera, The Audience Agency

Me and my work

My work is usually a combination of arts, science and statistics

I currently work as a Data Scientist in Residence at the Barbican Centre, the National Theatre and English National Opera. In this job I analyse data in these arts organisations and design software which brings their data to life in interesting ways. My work more generally has always combined the arts and science. I started off at University being very unsatisfied with the analysis tools that were available to answer the questions I had, so I created my own tools. This led me to ways in which computer science and machine intelligence can be applied to the arts.

My Typical Day

Some talking and lots of messy data!

A typical day starts with a planning session with my fellow Data Scientist in Residence. We work in a way that is known in software development as Agile, which means every day we review our work, editing and adapting it as we go along. We then have a Skype call with our software development team who write the code for the software tools we are building. Some days we have meetings  and workshops with people in the different arts organisations, finding out about audience behaviour and repertoire. Other days we are working directly with different databases, querying them for data and then analysing them using statistics. Usually the data we get back needs tidying up before we analyse it, this is known as data wrangling and takes up a lot of time!

What I'd do with the money

Produce a dance video demonstrating (some) data science methods

With the money I’d like to produce a video available online which demonstrates some of the concepts I use every day as a data scientist. Part of creating the work will involve seeing which concepts might work well, so we can produce something clear and great to watch. My first ideas are around something known as clustering which is used by data scientists everywhere, from people working at Google, to science students at University. Ask me about it if you’d like to know more!

The money itself would go towards studio hire, some dancers, and a videographer.

Why dance? With dance you can see things visually that you can’t always pin down in your mind when learning something in other ways. Creating a dance video accessible to lots of people, all over the world, brings data science concepts in an interesting way to new people. Dance is all about describing concepts through movement, and in many cases it’s entertaining too. Sometimes those concepts are about behaviour, emotions or stories. This is a bit of a spin on what you might normally see in a dance piece, and it is about visualising data science.

Why online on YouTube? Firstly, it’s free and available to lots of people, from lots of different backgrounds. The video can find its way to people that might not be looking for it, but it’s available to anyone looking for it too. It means everyone involved in schools on I’m a Scientist can benefit from the video too, and it’ll leave a small bit of a lasting impression in communicating data science to the public. I’ll also put it up on Vimeo as some schools block access to YouTube.

Do I have the right experience to use the money for this purpose? Well, I’ve produced science engagement videos as part of a project a few years ago, and they toured on an art installation all around the UK (reaching many thousands of people), and as for dance, I’ve been part of the production team for over 60 performances. For the I’m a Scientist video, I won’t be alone either: I already have a fantastic choreographer (Steve Johnstone, Off The Map Dance Company) lined up if I win the money.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

creative, inquisitive, driven

Who is your favourite singer or band?

alt-J

What's your favourite food?

Mashed potato with cheese

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Petting small sharks at Indianapolis Zoo

What did you want to be after you left school?

Professional Ballet Dancer

Were you ever in trouble at school?

Sometimes!

What was your favourite subject at school?

Ballet & Maths (not at the same time though)

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I’m currently working on a piece of software that can predict what kind of people will come to what kind of theatre production.

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

I wanted to improve the scientific information available to dancers

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

I’d probably be working as a teacher

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

1: Have a superpower which allows me to naturally withstand being at deep sea levels unharmed, 2: I’d like to own an enchanted bottomless bag, 3: To never have to see or hear an advert I’m not interested in ever again

Tell us a joke.

A poet can survive everything but a misprint.

Other stuff

Work photos: