INTERVIEW 7:
PROFESSOR JACKIE CARTER

When we had the opportunity to interview Professor Jackie Carter from The University of Manchester, Chris thought he had booked a trip to the UK.  Unlucky for him, we had the pleasure of meeting Jackie in Melbourne and spent an enlightening 5+ minutes asking her our standard 5 questions.

1.Tell us your story … 

I’m Jackie, from the UK and currently based at the University of Manchester where I am running a program based in statistical literacy. I am a first generation university student – the first of 6 children in my family to go to university and everything I’ve done since is the result of getting a good education. I place education very highly in my list of values and am in Australia helping undergraduate social science students get better skills to make them more employable and to make them better researchers. This is with a focus around data analysis and being critical of data wherever they might encounter it – in the news, in journals and getting them to really think about what numbers mean that they come across.

2The Interpreters spend a lot of time trying to understand our clients’ customers and segments within the market. How well do you know the students that you place in roles and how do you approach getting to know them?

I pride myself on getting to know my students before I place them and also when they are out in the workplace. We might have 50-60 applicants for our program and the first stage is an interview process. A trick of mine is to ask them a question that I was once asked in an interview. I ask them to sum themselves up in 3 words. It’s the only question that every year the most confident and most articulate stumble on. You get the standard answers but they are pretty honest. The ones that stand out are the ones that tend to use adjectives that differ from their peers. ‘Adventurous ‘, ‘Curious’, ‘Creative’. One of the things that really astounds me about data analysis is how creative of a process it is and how few people recognize this. It’s a terrifically creative thing to be able to problem solve with data. They see it as very black and white, mathematical, scientific; and the ones who you can see have the spark and will do well are the ones that say they like problem solving; taking problems and running with them. Creating narratives around data is so important to enable people to emotionally connect with the story and the students who have a passion about something are the one’s that are most driven. It’s not the data itself that excite them, the data just helps them to analyse what they are substantially interested in at an overall level.

3. We do a lot of problem solving at The Interpreters so we’re interested in how other people solve problems. How do you approach problem solving?

I’m a mathematician by training so I think very logically. Always have and always will. If I’ve got a new problem to solve, I will research it for starters. I find out what I need to know and where the gaps in my knowledge are. Mostly what I do, unashamedly, is find someone else who’s done what I need to do before and build on it. I think I’m not best at coming up with new ideas but finding new audiences for ideas that I know that have worked. I’m also creative about the way that I approach things. I used to be a completer – a finisher. I’m much less bothered about this now. I’m much better at getting things started, I used to think that I had to see something through from start to end and now I am better at growing ideas.

It’s also very important that people know that we have solved a problem; this isn’t self aggrandising it’s just saying ‘this works, you might want to try it’, so that others can benefit and also taking your learnings and then applying it to something else.

4. Interpretation is subjective but a key part of our analysis. We’re always interested in the ways other people might interpret key trends or things of interest from their specialism. How do you interpret Brexit in the UK and how that eventuated?

That’s a really big question. I come from a very political family; my husband is head of politics at University of Manchester, my daughter is going to university to study politics and my son studied politics, philosophy and economics so we live in a very political family and we talk about it a lot. I remember on the morning of the referendum results, my daughter and I went for breakfast and I think we were all in shock. I work in a very liberal university and I was surrounded by people who just didn’t think it could happen, I’m surrounded by people who comment in the media on election results and I remember thinking that no-body foresaw this, so when it happened, it was such a shock wave that took over the country. And to a greater or lesser degree we’ve been riding that shockwave since. People are realizing now that it is actually happening, and it’s already starting in small parts. How that all comes out in the goodness of time remains to be seen and I think we’re still in early days.

It’s very hard to observe what’s happening when you’re involved in it, so one of the ironic things when you come away from the UK realising that Brezit in the UK is the biggest story, is that on the other side of the world it’s just a tiny drop in the political global ocean. It helps you look at it in some perspective, but also makes you realise that the world is in quite a mess at the moment. I was listening to a podcast the other day from Noma Chomsky who puts his finger on the pulse and says that the world is a very dangerous place at the moment and thinking of the UK coming out of Brexit is quite frightening, because we don’t know what will happen afterwards.

One thing that has come out of Brexit and recent elections is the appreciation of the need to be able to critically analyse the numbers that are put to you, alongside the emotion that is attached to the numbers. We’ve always known that politicians will argue with numbers and I think there’s something interesting going on with the popular vote connecting beyond statistics. They are not necessarily refuting them, but using them to fight their own arguments, take Jeremy Corbyn for example. There’s more abuse of statistics as data is more available now so it’s now more critical to teach our students, that if you are going to argue with numbers, then they have to be robust and rigorous about finding out where their data is coming from. The first question I always ask in a lecture is ‘where is this number from and who’s data is it anyway’. How big is the data set? These are the questions that are becoming increasingly important.

5. Because we firmly believe that Information is Beautiful, we would like to give you a copy of Information is Beautiful, ‘a stunning visual journey through the most revealing trends, fascinating facts and vital statistics of the modern world’. Because first impressions matter, have a scan through and tell us which visualisation caught your attention and why?

I’ve chosen Peter’s Projection. There’s so many and it’s hard but I’ve chosen this one is because I’m a real map lover. I did my PhD using mapping data to project and model the fallout of radiation. After Chernobyl they had all this data and so I came along and did an analysis where on the back of plotting risk or the likely risk of radiation fallout from a plume you could relocate populations, both of people and animals to safer areas.

The reason I’ve chosen this is because it is on one hand very simple but it tells a very complex and very well known phenomenon when it comes to map projections. It chimes with what is very close to my heart, and that’s equality. This makes me think about the attention that we place on America compared to Africa. If you look at the size of America on a normal map its very large but actually when you look at this map the population of Africa and Asia is much larger and the size reflects the greater level of inequality. So if we use this projection the size of these developing nations is much larger and draws greater attention.

Peter's Projection