Rebecca Brennan is a Business Analyst at WorkSafe New Zealand.
What do you do on an average work day?
WorkSafe New Zealand is New Zealand's health and safety regulator. As an organisation WorkSafe New Zealand is working collaboratively to achieve a 25 percent reduction in the workplace injury and death toll by 2020. It is my team's responsibility to be able to provide intelligence, business analytics, and information on trends, risks and issues in New Zealand workplaces. This can be used to assist evidence-based decision making, and strategy development. As an analyst, this means on any given day I could be working on two to three different pieces of work. I can receive requests, both internal and external, for all sorts of health and safety information. I have to evaluate the best way to use the data we have to answer these queries and provide the most rich information possible. Sometimes this can be simple, other times it can be a lot more challenging.
On top of these requests I will also try to allocate time to work on some ongoing development projects when I can, although new urgent requests can appear at any minute.
A common theme across everything I do is dealing with data, whether it is digging deep into the depths of our datasets to answer questions, creating queries (using the Statistical Analysis System software SAS) to try and pull the most valuable information for customers, or writing my own SAS code in order to improve processes. Not only am I continually challenging myself, but on a daily basis I collaborate and interact closely with others around the organisation to determine their needs and what I can provide for them. There is always something new to get stuck into, and each day can vary greatly from the previous one.
No matter what data analysis I am doing, I know that each day I've contributed towards our goal of trying to ensure that everyone who goes to work, comes home safe. Whether it is through providing data analytics on the effectiveness of our current operations, or helping to develop new analytical tools to enable the organisation to be more proactive and prevent workplace accidents from even occurring, I am a part of a determined and hard-working team trying to improve the health and safety of New Zealanders in their workplaces.
What did you study at school? And after high school?
Mathematics has always been my favourite subject. In high school, to accompany mathematics I decided to study the sciences - biology, chemistry, and physics. When I started university though I had no idea what I wanted to do, but felt that university-level mathematics might be too difficult. I spent a year trying everything from computer science, commerce, and politics, to psychology and biology. After this, I realised I had to get back to more of the physical sciences and I chose to study for a Bachelor of Science in Geophysics. It was a good way to combine my interest in math, physics, and the earth into one subject matter. As I neared the end of my degree I realised that I wanted to challenge myself and do more mathematics, and so I completed my degree with a second major in Mathematics.
Was your study directly related to what you do now?
My study is not directly related to what I do now. Towards the end of my degree I realised that while I enjoyed learning about geophysics, it wasn't an area that I wanted to pursue career-wise. As for mathematics, there aren't many specific career paths that cater directly towards mathematics. While I enjoyed challenging myself with pure mathematical theory I didn't want to be in an academic role. However, the logical, problem-solving skills, and the ability to analyse information that I developed through studying these subjects have definitely helped me in my career. Studying mathematics has definitely benefited me, especially in my ability to easily pick up and learn how to program in SAS which is something I truly enjoy.
What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?
If you do not know what you want to for a career yet, please do not stress. Seven years ago when I started university, I never could have envisioned that I would be in the role I am now, doing something I really enjoy. Take this time to think about what you enjoy, and what areas ignite interest in you.
What are some of your career highlights so far?
In my previous role at Statistics New Zealand I was introduced to SAS. I discovered a love for programming. I was able to develop my programming skills for the two years I was there, to a point where I was able to provide some decent solutions to some challenges we had. While at Statistics New Zealand, I was also able to grow from being a support analyst on a survey to then become the project leader for that survey, which was a great achievement for me.
Since I have been at WorkSafe New Zealand I have been provided with many opportunities to be responsible for some challenging, and exciting pieces of work. Every day brings a new challenge, which is a definite highlight, and I am able to continually build my skills and knowledge of SAS.
On top of this, over the past few years I have had the opportunity to work with and learn from some incredible people, and to attend seminars and conferences to learn more about how to utilise data in this present time.
Why do you believe engaging in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) – whether it’s working in the field, studying it or just educating one’s self around the issues – is important to New Zealand?
STEM provides a great foundation to enable individuals to learn how to think critically, to develop problem-solving skills and the ability to analyse all sorts of information. These are transferable skills, not just for the career someone follows, but also for everyday life.
Not everyone learns in the same way, and STEM provides a chance to be involved in different styles of learning, such as outdoor experiments, practical lab work and problem-solving projects among other opportunities. It enables people to quench their curiosity about the world, while also building that strong foundation of essential life skills.
To be able to contribute to the world and society we live in, we need to understand it. In this modern day and age technology has advanced exponentially as has big data along with it. It is advantageous to be able to understand this technology and data in order to successfully harness its benefits, to make informed, innovative decisions, whether in the workplace or everyday life, or even just to assist in deepening our knowledge and understanding of the present world we live in, and help New Zealand's economy to strive and grow.
Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?
STEM is an exciting, and continually changing and advancing area to get involved in. According to an article from Unitec women make up one quarter of the global technology workforce, and this has been on the decline over the past two decades.
STEM can be seen as a more male-dominated area, which can be disconcerting for some women. There is a possibility that being witness to more gender diversity in my computer science class could have encouraged me to continue studying it at the time. While I enjoyed the class immensely I do remember feeling a little out of place. By the time I was in my final year studying mathematics I had adjusted to being part of the gender minority (of a lesser degree) in my classes, but for some women they might not make it to that stage.
Over the years I've read a variety of articles from women with similar insecurities. To be able to see women who have been successful in studying and pursuing STEM is inspirational to me, and I would believe to many other young women who perhaps want to follow in those same footsteps but are self-conscious about how it could be perceived by their peers. Issues surrounding gender in regards to STEM are being addressed more these days, but it is a slow process, so the more women who are able to be encouraged to pursue STEM, if that is where their passion lies, the more successful we can be at decreasing that gender gap.
It is also important to be able to change the perception of what STEM is. STEM is an exciting area to be involved in, with the constant challenges it provides. To be able to involve more women, and have their perspective and experiences, contributing more towards the innovation within STEM is a definite advantage.
Rebecca Brennan is a Business Analyst at WorkSafe New Zealand.
This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.
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