Mahfuj Ali, data analyst, explains how his interest in learning how the world works and exploring by experimentation has led to him to working with data in the financial sector for a company called Deloitte. And although he had few role models growing up, he's glad he studied physics as it gave him the skills he needs to do the job he loves.
Physics skills Being able to collect data from experiments or simulations and then making sense of it is a skill Mahfuj Ali says he gained from studying physics. (Courtesy: iStock/DavidGoh)
What first got you excited about physics?
I have always wanted to understand how things around me worked. This started with opening up household appliances when they broke to have a look inside and building home-made boats using bottles, but also included helping my dad around the house with DIY to fix things; and watching documentaries about science and engineering. These experiences naturally led me to study physics. London
Do you have a favourite physics memory?
My earliest memory of physics was in school. I was about ten years old and we were learning about electrical circuits. We had batteries, bulbs and wire, and a basic diagram on the whiteboard to try and copy. I remember being fascinated by seeing the brightness of the bulbs changing when varying the number of cells or bulbs in the circuit. I love this memory as it shows that everyone can discover science for themselves by experimenting whether you are familiar with the scientific concepts or not, it’s always exciting to figure something out for yourself.
Who inspired you when you were a teenager?
My older sister inspired me as a teenager. Being a South Asian woman and going off to study chemistry at university, at the time, for a second-generation immigrant was quite a feat. I admired her courage and determination to study. Jim Al-Khalili’s documentaries on BBC were what got me into physics. His ability to explain to the audience in just the right amount of detail kept me engaged and intrigued.
How did you get into your current job? And what do you enjoy most about it?
I had worked in geophysics for almost a year, but soon discovered that the part of my job I most enjoyed was data analysis. Since moving to Deloitte and working as a data analyst I genuinely enjoy my work and love problem solving. While I continue to learn, the most fulfilling part of my job is building brand new tools and solutions to solve problems for my clients and having a product at the end that I can be proud of having developed.
What skills are useful for your job?
There are two things that I got from studying physics that are vital to my work as a data analyst. Firstly, being able to collect data from experiments or simulations and then making sense of that data; and secondly, being able to take a complex process and break it down into smaller manageable components. I would say the ability to communicate complex topics in a simple way really helps too.
Have you overcome any challenges in your physics career?
The biggest challenge for me wanting to pursue physics was not having any role models who also studied physics in my life. Those that I did come across who studied physics, I couldn’t relate to as they didn’t look like me or come from the same background. I overcame these challenges by diving headfirst into each experience and figuring it out as I went along.
What advice would you give your teenage self about study and work choices?
I wish I was given more encouragement that I could achieve something rather than just going out there and hoping for the best. Being on this path has really helped me grow as a person, especially studying abroad. This was completely out of my comfort zone and really pushed me to my limits. I would tell my younger self to try and do something abroad earlier on, be it backpacking, volunteering, an internship, studying or working.