Rosanna Ignazzi is a Business Specialist, soon to be Data Scientist, at ATP, Datamining and Fraud Detection Department. She graduated with a PhD in particle physics from the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen.
Please give a description of the work you do in your current position.
My job consists in analysing data from different public authorities in order to find errors and detect fraud in payments of social benefits, such as pension and housing benefits. Me and my colleagues often dive into the huge amount of data to detect deviations and fraudulent patterns, and from them we design selection logics and build software that flags or prevents the errors. My days are both filled with writing production code and exploring data, which is very exciting as you can both investigate new data and see your idea and analysis become a product. Sometimes I also get the chance to try out new tools or technologies, such as data visualisation with dashboard applications, to see if they could be used in our products.
How do you use the skills you learned as a physicist or engineer in your work?
During my years as a physics student and as a Ph.D. student I learned how to approach very hard problems and how to break them down into solvable bits. This skill is extremely useful when looking in a big and complicated dataset. Moreover, I am not scared to look in a pool of unknown data, where the outcome of an analysis is not given at the beginning, as this has often been the case in my years as a physicist, where there is sometimes no idea of the conclusions of an experiment. Finally, sometimes physics experiments do not work as planned, or the problem that seemed so easy to solve turns out to be much more complicated. Having tried this multiple times, I have learned to adapt quickly, change scope, and find an alternative plan or drop the experiment if it does not make sense anymore. Therefore, I do not get depressed when things fail or do not work the way I expected.
What made you decide to pursue a career in the public sector?
I love physics, but a life in academia is very demanding and I could not see myself going further after my Ph.D. Also, I have always been curious to explore how math, code and statistics could be used in the real world.
What motivated you to study physics or engineering in the first place?
I fell in love with physics during my first physics lesson in high school. I really liked the idea that nature and its phenomena could be described with math, it seemed so elegant to me that I needed to know more about it.
What advice would you give to young people (in particular women and minorities) who would like to pursue a career in the private industry or public sector?
Go for it! The problem-solving skills gained while studying physics are highly useful and sought after. Do not get scared when people assume that the only things you can do with physics are teaching and research. Tell them instead how awesome you are and how valuable your math/statistics/coding/analysis/ experimental experience is.