Le Thu Thao was awarded the British Council Scholarships for Women in STEM 2023–24. She is currently studying for an MSc Data Science at Middlesex University.

Why did you choose to pursue your studies in a STEM subject in the UK?

I was a Data Analyst working with geolocation data (latitude and longitude) for a startup in Ho Chi Minh City. Our company collects locations from users (with approval) to ensure they are where they should be.

However, some fraudsters would like to bypass our detection when faking their location to abuse the policy in some specific areas. In most cases, the Data Analyst team would investigate to see any abnormal signs and create rules based on those. For example, we might find a transaction suspicious if it had unrealistic velocity. However, one time, we faced an advanced professional cybercrime group. They bypassed our logic and then sold the data to other fraudsters. As there were so many data points to look at and no clear difference between this group and normal users found, we couldn't use a rule-based model to detect them. I felt helpless at that time. That moment was the tipping point for me, to decide to level my abilities up. The project, then, ended fortunately, with a machine learning model from the Data Science team using clustering and decision-making methods.

After that, although I've gone through many other projects and investigations, I'm always thinking about what I could have done better to solve such challenges. I knew there were many questions that I couldn't solve with my current level of ability. However, having a full-time job didn't give me enough time to learn and develop myself properly. Therefore, I decided to postpone my work and enroll in a full-time programme in Data Science in the UK.

Please share with us about your study programme in the UK, what do you like most about this programme, or scholarship scheme, or your UK institution? 

The teachers and professors here are really supportive and friendly. I've learned so many new ways to study compared to what I was used to back in Viet Nam. Like, every week we have these things called challenges. They're not mandatory, but if you do them, you can earn extra points and understand the subjects much better. We're encouraged to ask lots of questions and share our ideas, which is awesome.

Just recently, we had this little hackathon where we had a week to solve a problem in teams and then debate it. The final showdown was intense, pitting two groups of guys against girls. It ended with a funny realisation: you can't beat a woman in a debate!

Being here in the UK gives me a chance to think back on my work experience and see where I could improve. There's a lot in my work I could do better than I did in the past, and studying here helps me figure that out, for which I am truly grateful.

What are your plans after finishing your studies in the UK?

As a female leader and advocate for gender diversity in STEM, I am committed to engaging and inspiring other women and girls from my country to pursue STEM fields. One of the ways I plan to do this is by sharing my experiences and successes in the industry, as well as providing mentorship and guidance to those who may be interested in pursuing STEM but face obstacles.

Besides, I plan to work with schools and universities in Viet Nam to promote STEM education and encourage young girls to consider STEM fields. I believe that by partnering with educators and institutions, we can create more opportunities for women and girls to explore and develop their interests in STEM.

As a British Council Scholar, I also see myself as an ambassador for promoting UK education. I use social media platforms to share my experiences and insights, participate in educational events and seminars to share my knowledge, and collaborate with UK-based organisations to create opportunities for Vietnamese students interested in pursuing STEM studies in the UK.

Through these efforts, I hope to make a meaningful contribution towards promoting gender diversity in STEM and building stronger educational ties between Viet Nam and the UK.

What advice would you give to Vietnamese students who wish to apply for the British Council Scholarships for Women in STEM 2024–25? 

For Vietnamese students aspiring to apply for the British Council Scholarships for Women in STEM 2024–25, my advice would be to understand your strengths thoroughly, and to prepare your application diligently. Additionally, it's crucial to submit your application as early as possible.