From cutting up cadavers to delivering big data – How my scientific skills took me from Anatomy to Digital Finance

One of the key themes of British Science Week 2021 is smashing stereotypes. Simon Booker, Digital Finance Data Specialist at RSA, reminds us that your scientific career doesn’t always have to be linear or follow a set path.

As many will say, I never intended to work in insurance. It wasn’t something I had considered at all. My mum is a nurse, so it was only natural that I ended up studying Human Biology and Anatomy at Liverpool University. I spent much of my 3 years there learning about the literal ins and outs of the human body and of course was assigned a cadaver to help me do this. (Yes, that’s right I dissected the people who had donated their bodies for the advancement of medical science!)

I remember at my graduation ceremony one of the speakers reminded us that being a scientist often means looking at things analytically, and not necessarily always going with your gut feeling. Because after all that is our job! My gut feeling was telling me that after 3 years of studying I did not want to spend another 5 following the medical career path that many of my peers did.  

Instead I went to work at a funeral director. After working there for 18 months, I realised that it was turning into a dead-end job (pardon the pun!). I wanted to progress my career and get some more experience and I couldn’t do that were I was.

I went back to Liverpool University and spoke to their Graduate into Employment Unit. I enrolled onto their 10-week programme, learning interview skills and some of the basics ready to fully immerse myself into the world of work. At the end of the course I was interviewed for a part time placement working for the NHS in one of their research divisions.

Transferrable skills

I really enjoyed it. It allowed me to use lots of the analytical skills I’d learned during my degree and my experience at the funeral directors even came in handy when I was offered a full-time job in data analysis within the NHS. The hiring manager gave me the job on the basis that he knew that I could be trusted to follow orders, protocol and deliver on promises. (Working at a funeral director when you say to family of the bereaved something is going to happen on a certain day or at a certain time – you must follow through.)  

During my early career with the NHS I worked on ground-breaking projects helping with contractual reporting and building databases and systems that the NHS could use to verify and validate the huge amounts of data they collected.

The road to RSA

This led me to RSA where I joined the Motability team to overhaul their data reporting systems and after 4 years I moved into the UK finance team where I now work with our digital finance systems and big data to improve the way we collect, analyse and report on our financial data.

Like I said, I never planned to work in insurance, science just led me here and I’m glad that it did! When I look back on my early career, I remember being worried, and feeling that I was lacking in direction. I needn’t have worried.

Looking back, I had one hiring manager that saw potential in the combination of the scientific method I’d been taught at University and the personality and characteristics demonstrated by my career in funeral directing. It’s that combination of skills and personal characteristics that defines true “success”. Without any of the roles in my career (including the bad ones), all stemming from a scientific mindset and training, I would not be where I am today.