Beatriz De La Iglesia becomes a Professor

The AgriFoRwArdS CDT is all about celebrating the successes of those within our community.

We received some massive news this week about one of our very own Academics and wanted to pass on our congratulations! These situations are also a great opportunity for us to learn more about our community, and discover their motivations for working within the sector.

So, a massive congratulations to PROFESSOR Beatriz De La Iglesia, who was recently awarded a Professorship in Data Science at the University of East Anglia.

We spoke to Beatriz about her accomplishment’s, her journey so far, and her advice for those just starting out in the sector.

What brought you to the UK?

I came to the UK when I was 20 with the hope of learning some English.  I had unsuccessfully started two degrees back home in Spain (Law and Chemistry) and decided that studying was perhaps not for me.  My mother suggested that learning a language may open some employment opportunities, so I followed through.  After a couple of years, I mastered the English language getting my Proficiency Cambridge certificate.  This made me realise I could learn new things, so I thought about education again with a renewed emphasis.  I had by then spent 3 years of not very fulfilling jobs and I was ready for a change. What is more I was now highly self-motivated (by necessity!), this was an improvement from my earlier years.

Why Computing Science?

I was given an opportunity to study Computing Science.  At the time computers were not an everyday item so I had hardly seen any and knew very little about the discipline. There was no vocation or call at that point.  Nevertheless, I did like maths and science, and it sounded like a great opportunity.  I was 24 and so a mature student, and English was not my first language, but I took this challenge with a renewed appetite and started achieving really good results.  By the time I graduated with a first-class degree, I was already in love with the subject, so I wanted to study more.  I was one of 4 females in Computing that year and although we made up 10% of the cohort, we achieved 50% of the First Class Honours.

How did you develop your research interests?

The University (UEA) kindly opened an opportunity to study a PhD as part of a Teaching Company Scheme with Aviva.  It was in what then was a new research area: Data Mining.  The research went very well as we developed algorithms to extract knowledge from the type of data Aviva was managing.  My PhD was achieved as a single mother caring for a young child with a full-time job, so it was a great moment of pride but also a struggle at times.  After I finished, we started on a knowledge exchange initiative by providing a master’s degree in Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining which was taught to Aviva employees.  I became the leader of that initiative and later, as I started on a Lectureship at UEA, the Director of PGT degrees in the School.   I also continued working with data mining algorithms but with a special interest in application to health data.  I worked on many projects including Cardiovascular Disease Risk model validation using primary care data, on analysis of textual reports for gastroenterology procedures and on the development of a clinical methodology to extract clinical pathways from routinely collected data.

Do you have any words of wisdom for students just starting out?

A few years have passed since then, and I have nurtured many students through their degrees including many female students who have become excellent scientists.  My own research has grown with now over 60 papers published and several collaborations with industry, and other Universities and institutions. Our Master degree has grown from strength to strength, now attracting high numbers of international students.

I have just been rewarded with a position as Professor of Data Science and that fills me with tremendous pride and joy as I would not have dared to dream when I started my career that I could get this far.  So to all students, young and older, and of any gender I say dare to dream big, and even if that is difficult, take each step with motivation and determination as you never know how far you can go with hard work and determination, as every step opens new opportunities you never knew even existed!