Graduate Q&A: James Yearsley (BSc Biology)

As a young person, James Yearsley had a keen interest in nature and a desire to understand the amazing diversity of life.

Having graduated with a degree in BSc Biology in 2015, he now works as a data analyst for UKBioBank, where he uses the skills he learned at University to analyse large-scale data sets and work on projects with leading researchers.

james yearsley, hull biology graduate
James Yearsley

When you were 18, did you know what you wanted to do after University?

I always had a relatively clear idea that I wanted to follow a career in biological research and my goal had always been to pursue a PhD. After completing my Masters, I decided that the academic route might not be the most appropriate for my goals and decided to take the skills I had developed and move in a different direction.

What made you choose the career path you are on?

Large-scale datasets had interested me from a methods perspective due to the power of such sample sizes. My main interest was in the more natural side of biology and during my undergraduate degree I avoided human-related modules. However, upon discovering the level of funding which is available when humans are the study organism, I decided to join an organisation focused on human medical research.

What do you like most about your job?

One of the great benefits of being a data analyst is the ability to work remotely. Whilst going into the office can be nice as a change of scenery, the ability to work from home or any other location has had a huge benefit to me during the pandemic. Additionally, having no commute to work, being able to complete jobs around the house on lunch breaks, and preparing my lunch at home has saved me a lot of time and money.


Q. What’s a typical working day for you?

A typical working day would be logging on to my computer about 9am and checking my emails to see if anything urgent has come in overnight. We generally have a team meeting every morning to update each other on our plans for the day and raise any issues. I will usually start the day by replying to researcher questions that have come in about the database, such as creating cross-tabs between different diseases and data availability to provide advice on sample sizes for researchers' studies. I will then spend the rest of the day preparing new datasets to beincorporated into the resource, meeting with research groups to collaborate on new projects and releasing datasets to researchers.


What can students do during their time at University to increase the chances of getting their dream job?

I think any additional experience you can get to flesh out your CV and show initiative is always helpful. Examples of these could be undergoing a summer studentship complementary to their dissertation project, helping out at scientific outreach fairs or getting involved in any extracurricular activities.

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Q. Have you got any tips from your experience on how to smash the application and interview process?

Usually, CVs and cover letters are graded by how well they fit the job description. I always make sure to clearly demonstrate an example and show experience for each point in the job description which will give me the highest chance I can to get to the interview stage. During the interview, I find it important to show my personality, passion and enthusiasm for the role to help me stand out from other candidates.

Why did you want to study biological sciences at university and why Hull?

I always had a keen interest in nature and I wanted to understand the amazing diversity of life, so studying biological sciences at University was always a goal. The University of Hull had a great study program, with the options to choose a wide variety ofmodules. This flexibility is what attracted me to the course.

If you had your time at University again, would you do anything differently?

I really enjoyed my time at University and I don’t think there is anything I would change.

Q. How has your degree helped you in your career?

james yearsley, hull biology graduate

My degree allowed me to progress on to a postgraduate study program, without which I would not have been qualified for my job. It introduced me to genomics and data analysis, and these skills I have continued to develop since leaving.

Do what you love, or do what pays the most? What do you think?

It is important to do something you enjoy. You will spend roughly 40 hours of your week doing it for several decades. There is a balance though between enjoyment and salary and it is important to find something that you find interesting but also that pays you well for your role so you can pursue your interests outside of work and live a comfortable life. However, the pay is not the only factor –finding a job that has good benefits, generous holiday allowances, and that will develop you are all important factors.

Interested in studying Biology?