Why we’ve partnered with Women in data…

Dstl is committed to being an organisation for everyone; where people from diverse backgrounds feel they can thrive and progress. We strive to be representative of the society we serve, and believe diversity of thoughts, skills and talents from across society is essential for success. Partnering with Women in Data is one way we can help expand the diversity of our workforce and demonstrate our commitment to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion while also encouraging a more representative gender balance in the data sector.

Karen Walker, Principal data scientist


Expertise: Data science and artificial intelligence

Education: BSc Mathematics

Social media details: Twitter, LinkedIn

As a Principal Data Scientist I lead teams of data scientists on a range of projects to improve defence and security. My role involves building the team, setting the direction for the work and ensuring the team has the skills they need. I am currently the deputy project lead on two projects, one looking at using natural language processing to feed into Dstl’s investment decisions, and the other looking at breaking down barriers to using machine learning in defence. Personal development is highly valued here and I’m continuing to improve my leadership skills, while maintaining my data science skills in this fast moving area.

Before Dstl I worked for the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for 14 years in a range of statistical roles such as estimating the number of people living in the UK (not as easy as it sounds!) As well as technical work, my roles involved helping the public and journalists understand the figures clearly, including doing interviews on television and radio.

In 2014 I moved to work in ONS’ first data science team where I gained valuable technical experience. I’m passionate about mentoring others on their data science journey and one of my main roles was in upskilling those in the team, ONS and others through the UN in Africa.

Capability building is something I’ve continued to enjoy doing since joining Dstl in 2019. There are lots of other things I enjoy about working here. For example unlike other organisations, career progression can be based on data science leadership and expertise on projects as well as line management. It’s also an incredibly supportive and friendly environment and we work flexibly, allowing us to decide when and where we work to fit in with our lifestyles. I would recommend it to anyone!

Charlotte, Data Scientist, Team Leader


Expertise: Data processing and management, data visualisation and software engineering

Education: MSc Computer Forensics and BSc Joint Honours Computing & Mathematics

I would say my data journey began back in comprehensive school where my math’s teacher took the time to work with me and show me what opportunities maths could really offer for the future. He encouraged me to follow my love for maths and problem solving and said that one day I would achieve the career I always wanted and told me to share my passion for STEM where I could in the future just like he did.

I continued my education in both Maths and Computing and this took me to Cardiff to complete my undergraduate degree. I was 1 of 3 females on the course out of 250+ people. I didn’t let this stop me and knew that in the future I would do what I could to support more females find their own pathways to STEM careers they were passionate about.

I have worked in a number of different roles which have brought me to where I am today. I started by looking into the Defence industry through a placement at General Dynamics before moving into the public sector at the Office for National Statistics and then joining Dstl back in 2015 as a Data Scientist. Since being at Dstl I have had a number of opportunities to apply my knowledge and develop my skills whilst working on exciting and challenging problems. Since the very beginning I have had supportive colleagues who have let me try things and learn from them and build my confidence. Over the years as I have progressed through the organisation I have tried to do the same back and share my experience. In my current role as a Team Leader I also continue to reach out externally and support in schools as a STEM ambassador. Alongside this I also teach internally a number of data science modules to members of staff who are looking to upskill.

Coming full circle, my math’s teacher who was there at the start of my journey still encourages me today whether I am talking to teenagers who remind me of those early days or chatting with colleagues about their experiences and long careers in data and technology.

Phillippa Spencer, OBE, Chief of Mathematical Sciences


Expertise: Statistics, Machine learning, Mathematics, Autonomy

Education: PhD

Phillippa has worked at Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) for 20 years. Described as a polymath, she has applied mathematical and statistical thinking across a wide range of technical domains including cyber, artificial intelligence, data fusion, chemistry and biology.

Phillippa also actively promotes equality in the workplace leading the Dstl Gender Equality Network and mentoring colleagues.

Phillippa has had a positive impact on national and international issues. The Department for International Development used her statistical modelling of likely Ebola infections among healthcare workers in Sierra Leone to determine aid spend and she was a key subject matter expert in bringing the F-35 fighter into service.

Phillippa supported the recovery following the Salisbury and Amesbury incidents by applying modelling to determine whether locations and vehicles were safe to use. Phillippa also leads on Autonomy and AI vulnerabilities research, ensuring the UK and international allies understand the risks and countermeasures when deploying this new technology.

Recently Phillippa led on the Covid data response to the pandemic and received an OBE as a result. Phillippa is creative and expressive, bringing her own style to the workplace. She is passionate about championing new ideas and approaches and always believes that it is the team work ethic and inclusivity in the team that makes the science work, not one person alone.

“Dstl is committed to being an organisation for everyone; where people from diverse backgrounds feel they can thrive and progress.”

How Dstl see the data landscape changing in the UK in the next five years

“These are uncertain and turbulent times. The world of today is hugely changed from just five years ago, and the pace of change continues to accelerate. New sciences are emerging, new technologies are being developed and adopted faster than ever and new analysis techniques are generating swifter understanding from increasing volumes of data.” Professor Dame Angela McLean – Chief Scientific Advisor to the Ministry of Defence

Across Government, data and its innovative exploitation is increasingly recognised as being key to effective decision making within Government, efficient delivery of public services, and supporting national growth. Within Dstl, we see the continued and rapid growth of data-relevant capabilities to be critical to achieving our purpose of delivering high-impact science & technology for the UK’s defence, security and prosperity. From great data management across our organisation, to understanding and enabling the positive exploitation potential of our data assets, to working with our industrial, academic and international partners to applying the cutting edge of AI and machine learning in support of defence and security challenges, data skills and expertise have never been more important to us.

about Dstl

The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) delivers high-impact science and technology (S&T) for the UK’s defence, security and prosperity.

A proven national asset, Dstl is an Executive Agency of the Ministry of Defence (MOD) with around 4,500 staff providing world class expertise and giving the UK clear advantage across science, technology, cyber and information. We are innovative, collaborative and impactful.