Sam, a Media and Communications student, attended a two-week data science summer school in Wrocław, Poland. He was awarded funding from Santander Universities to help cover the costs of his placement.
I decided I wanted to take advantage of the Go Abroad programme but came to the idea quite late. Looking around on the internet, I came across the Data Science summer school in Wrocław. I’d always wanted to try and work on my computer programming skills after several aborted attempts at self-education throughout my adulthood, and I’d never been to Poland but I knew that it has a fascinating history, so I took the plunge.
The best part of the trip was probably the unbelievable effort our Polish hosts on the course put into planning activities for us – there wasn’t a single evening without a planned trip to some zip wires, or a tour of the city, or a boat ride… the highlight had to be the weekend where we took a trip to the mountains and stayed in beautiful lodge in the countryside, playing football barefoot whilst the sun set over the hills in the company of some really beautiful dogs.
Teaching was 5 hours straight from 9 am until 2pm, preceded by breakfast and followed by a lunch provided by the course (which included some surprisingly great caterers), leaving half of the afternoon and the evening free for social activities. It was certainly a higher pace of socialising (and drinking!) than I’m used to but it was a really great way of getting to know everyone on the course who came from all around the world.
The work on the course was challenging, and I was very glad of the small programming experience I had. There was a lot of material packed into two weeks and it meant the final exam was tough due to the sheer amount of material we covered. It was especially challenging balancing all this with a packed social schedule, but was also worth it for the added experience of getting to know new people and learning new things.
The most useful thing I gained was learning that data science is a career option for me in the future. Whilst a two-week taster barely scratches the surface of a hugely complex topic, it was enough to confirm that it was something that interested me enough to form a potential career option! It was also beneficial from the point of view of my academic studies. I study digital media theory, and whilst AI and machine learning are important topics in the field, we don’t learn how machine learning works practically and technically, at least not in any great depth. As such having a chance to learn the nuts and bolts and grapple with the mathematics involved was useful for informing my thinking in addition to the media-theoretic perspective I use in my degree.
My first tip is if you’re unsure whether to go, just go for it! Although it was a bit of last-minute decision for me, I am so glad I went. It’s the sort of opportunity that doesn’t come along very often. Another tip I have is something I wish I’d done – I didn’t really learn much Polish before or during my trip, and I felt like I was missing out by not doing this, so definitely try and pick up some basics before you go. If you’re an English speaker it’s easy not to do this as English is so commonly spoken, but I think it does mean you miss out on an important aspect of the culture you’re learning about.