Starting up fast
My story with the Alan Turing Institute (the National Institute for Data Science – thereafter the Turing) started at EPSRC three years ago. At that time, I was part of a project team who had been tasked to set up the Institute. It took a year to make it a legal entity - the Institute was launched as a company, with charitable status, and as a joint-venture of five universities (Cambridge, Edinburgh, Oxford, UCL and Warwick) in November 2015.
This was an exciting time. I joined the Institute on secondment to oversee business development. A handful of us shared a small office on the fourth floor of the British Library. We were very much like a start-up and achieved much in our first year: attracting researchers to come and work at the Institute; preparing a suitable space (renting and refurbishing part of the first floor of the British Library, our host and subsequent research partner); consulting with researchers and data science users to steer the Institute’s early research directions (we hosted many technical workshops and industry summits) and negotiating our first partnerships (with the Lloyd’s Register Foundation, Intel, GCHQ and HSBC).
Scaling up at pace
It has been a year since researchers formally set foot at the Institute. We have over 120 Turing Fellows who typically dedicate one to three days per week to Institute business. Research projects have been burgeoning and gathering strength. We have just onboarded our second cohort of PhD students. Our research engineering team is helping to bridge the gap between research and applications e.g. via optimising codes so these can be shared with other researchers, or be further developed for commercial exploitation. We have also many visiting researchers, from academia, industry and government, UK and international, and all of this generates a real buzz and fantastic environment to work in.
There have been many highlights in the last year, starting with the data-centric engineering research programme, which focus on data science underpinning the safety and resilience of major infrastructure. For example, one project aims to measure, monitor and analyse the performance of a 3D printed stainless steel bridge due to be installed across a canal in Amsterdam in 2018. We have announced new partnerships with, for example, Accenture, to combat fraud and money laundering. In health and well-being, one initiative led to the delivery of some great early insights from datasets in September (Data Study Group). Such partnerships are crucial in ensuring that new advances in data science are applied to real-world problems.
The Institute has engaged very widely over the past year – our Turing lectures and debates have been hugely popular, drawing thousands of people through our doors, and thousands more who have been able to benefit from some excellent video content delivered online.
As we look forward to our second year of operations, we aim to grow sustainably. We will be welcoming new university partners over the next few months. This will generate new collaborative opportunities for researchers and help bolster the institute’s capabilities. We will continue to partner with data science users, in priority areas such as future cities, AI and government.
The Institute wants to be recognised as a leader in data science research, training and skills. It aims to drive transformational impact for the UK economy, government, industry. It is at the centre of a connected network, bridging the UK's world-class university sector with industry, government and third sector. There will be many challenges in realising these ambitions. Everybody associated with the Institute is working very hard to ensure it can succeed. We need many more dedicated people to engage, at all levels – come and find out more at www.turing.ac.uk.
See also previous blog by Sir Alan Wilson, the Institute’s CEO.