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Q&A with Merve Alanyali - Lead Data Scientist

How did you come to work at LV= GI?

I joined LV= General Insurance (LV= GI) as a Data Scientist in January 2019 – I had just finished my PhD back then and was working as a research associate at the time when I was contacted by a recruiter about the role. I knew they were a big insurance company but didn’t know much more – but then I’ve never owned a car in the UK! I was promoted to Senior Data Scientist six months after I started, then Lead Data Scientist six months after that so it’s been quite an experience. I’m based in the London Stamford office.

Did you have any concerns about coming from an academic background?

My main worry was that wherever I applied might not value innovation or research as much as in academia, but I got a really good vibe about LV= GI. The two interviewers (who are now my colleagues) seemed very enthusiastic about what they were working on, which wasn’t always the case with other interviews. At other companies it felt like they were doing it as a bit of a tick box exercise; it didn’t feel like they wanted to be talking to me or talking about their department, there was no pride or enthusiasm. But LV= GI felt very different.

I was also worried above moving into such a new area for me – I didn’t know a huge amount about insurance, although it felt like a specific and interesting field. I was also really encouraged by the opportunity for learning and training, going to talks and conferences, as well as the interesting data science challenges the job offers. It felt quite forward thinking, and it was clear that the CEO and Exec team were very supportive. I’m pleased to say the reality is the same as what was described in the interview, and I definitely don’t regret my decision!

When people ask me about my job – especially those who are still working in academia, I tell them that I get the best of both worlds especially after the collaborative partnership with the University of Bristol – the best of industry and academia. It’s a really good combination and I am very much enjoying being at the centre of it.

What does your role involve?

I’m a Lead Data Scientist, which is quite a hands-on role. I manage projects alongside stakeholders from across different parts of the business, from the Underwriting team to the Claims team. I’m still very hands on; coding and building models and getting results, before presenting those back to the business.

I also work with the other lead Data Scientist and Data Engineers to set up best practices within the team, ensuring that every project and piece of work meets certain standards. We work to define those standards and a framework to deliver them. From a technical perspective, our priority is achieving technical excellence across the team, so that covers things like supporting junior team members, upskilling and creating tools for the wider team. We also have a big emphasis on innovation, whether it’s the extension of an existing project proposition or a new proposition entirely.

I’m also involved in a number of outreach projects. We are working closely with different student groups including Data Science Society, Women in Maths, Women in STEM societies in the University of Bristol. We organise hackathon days, attend events to give a talk about a specific subject or more general talks like ‘a day in life of a data scientist’ as well as act as a jury for competitions. This year, we have also supported Data Science for Social Good programme led by the Alan Turing Institute, the UK’s National Institute for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence. Bristol University is one of its partners, and I actually worked there as a researcher before joining LV= GI. They look at ways to use data science skills to support or improve practices of non-profit organisations and government bodies.

You can find more details about the programme and how we supported it on our recent blog post here.

We also try to involve people across LV= GI in Data Science – for example, every month we have an internal Data Science forum which is open to everyone across LV= GI. We present the projects that we’ve been working on or give updates on what we’ve been doing with the University of Bristol. Or we might be talking about what’s explainable AI? What does it mean? What does it bring?

What do you enjoy most about working in data science at LV= GI?

As a Data Scientist, insurance businesses like LV= GI are heaven, because of the sheer diversity of data we have access to, and the range of issues we’re challenged to overcome.

From a technical point of view, there’s a great balance of academia and industry. We have a collaborative partnership with University of Bristol and I’m heavily involved with that. I’m still working on research projects, supervising students which I very much enjoy. Another thing I really like is although we are heavily involved in academia, everything is still moving at a commercial pace and we can see the value that we’re delivering to the business. You don’t normally get that in big companies, but I can see every day that we get listened to and we do make a positive impact to the wider company.

Find out more about working in Data Science at LV= GI or email DSResourcing@lv.co.uk if you have any questions.

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