‘Be considered, research your opinion’

My Career Path: UCC graduate Max Darby is a data scientist at Musgrave

Max Darby: “Think carefully. Be considered, research your opinion, recognise when you’re saying something you either don’t fully believe or only read in a headline 5 minutes previously and revise it.”

Max Darby: “Think carefully. Be considered, research your opinion, recognise when you’re saying something you either don’t fully believe or only read in a headline 5 minutes previously and revise it.”


What did you study?
I studied digital humanities and information technology in UCC and graduated in 2018. It was a fantastic course which really prepared me for the workplace. There is a strong technical aspect to it, which works on core computer science capabilities, and then an arts aspect to it that develops a deeper understanding of the world and greatly enhances skills like critical thinking. It also has a full year of work placement, which was invaluable to my development. Over the course of that year I worked in a number of different roles within the SuperValu ecommerce team in Musgrave.

What attracted you to your current role?
I did work placement with Musgrave as part of my course and over the duration of that year I got to experience a lot of different roles. I eventually found myself with the analytics team and quickly realised that I had found my calling in data analytics and data science.

Musgrave really attracted me as a place to work. I felt they had a set of values and a mission that I could really get behind and contribute to. Additionally, once I realised that food distribution is essentially a giant optimisation problem, and as a newly-discovered data analyst I felt there was plenty of scope for me to hone my craft with them.

The most challenging thing about the transition to the working world?
The thing I found most challenging was neglecting parts of my mind that typically got regular exercise in a university context. I noticed this when I returned to UCC after my work placement. I sat into my first philosophy class and realised that over the previous year I had completely neglected the part of my personality that wanted to understand the world and human condition more deeply.

To combat this, when I finished my bachelor’s degree, and received my place on the Musgrave graduate programme, I also signed up to a part-time masters, so I could keep exercising that part of my mind.

It is critical to identify which parts of your mind are not satisfied by the working world, and to find ways to nurture them. It isn’t about taking on more work, but about finding balance. Fortunately for me, Musgrave were very keen to help me maintain that balance. They encouraged my research and even covered half of my fees. My work didn’t suffer, and they got an engaged, satisfied, grateful colleague.

Do you have any mentors in your workplace?
I have had multiple mentors and they all provided roughly the same value – they provided transparency. For me, understanding the broader picture is critical to my success. My manager knew this, and he would spend hours of his time explaining the intricate details of how the business worked. This level of transparency, at a point where I was trying to figure out how to fit into the company, was invaluable to my development. This is the role every mentor I’ve ever had has provided, whether it’s transparency into a business model, or an algorithm, or psychology in coaching sessions with the IMI.

What is the most valuable thing you have learned since you joined?
Be yourself. When I entered the Musgrave graduate programme I was keenly aware of being titled an “analyst” and yet I had come from a BA and had no formal analyst training other than helping out on the ecommerce analysis team. I was concerned that I was taking up a place on a prestigious programme in a role I wasn’t qualified for.

I went to HR with the intention of handing in my notice. I had just got to the words “I’m not an analyst” when she replied, “Of course you aren’t”, which stopped me in my tracks. She went on to say how “we know you’re not an analyst, you never were. You’re Max. We’re not quite sure what to call you yet, and it probably isn’t ‘analyst’, but we had to call you something. You might be an analyst right now but you’re here because of who you are.”

She was asking me to minimise my judgment about what I thought an analyst should be, and to be myself instead. It was a pivotal moment for me. I stopped trying to replicate my preconceived notion of what an analyst was and began being Max.

Be yourself, regardless of your title, and all the things you used to hold yourself back with will slowly fall away.

How has Covid-19 affected your start in the workplace?
It’s had a huge impact on my workplace, but it is still possible to make things work despite being remote. While it is harder to have that person-to-person connection without the office, there are ways to make the best of a difficult situation. By just asking questions and chatting authentically to people I have ended up presenting at a few universities, conferences, and featuring in promotional videos over the past year and a half. While Covid has shut down our immediate surroundings, it hasn’t stopped our ability to be human and to connect authentically with the people we interact with.

One piece of advice for new graduates?
Think carefully. Be considered, research your opinions, recognise when you’re saying something you either don’t fully believe or only read in a headline five minutes previously, and revise it. This means being honest with yourself, observing a lot, taking notes, reading a lot, taking walks to figure something out, not reaching for your phone the instant you feel the slightest sense of boredom and confronting hard topics head-on.

  - Jenna Clarke-Molloy