“Incredibly satisfying.” This is Hong Kong-born Sangam Thapa’s description of his prestigious placement as an analyst for COVID-19 Modelling at the UK government’s Department of Health and Social Care.
Currently working towards a BSc Mathematics with Computer Science at the University of Reading, Sangam discusses his journey, the fascination of his very topical placement and the support he has enjoyed at University.
Making the move
Sangam’s journey has been an interesting one. Growing up in Hong Kong, he describes the buzz and happiness of life there, but also the pressure on small children to perform and the overpowering sense of crowds. He describes coming to Reading as entering a place of light, fresh air and peace.
Sangam was very keen on mathematics as a little boy in Hong Kong, and loved doing all things with numbers. By the time the world of the internet opened to him, Sangam was ready for other interests too, and became fascinated with learning English as he grew older. He attended an international primary school in Hong Kong that specialised in teaching English, as well as Cantonese.
“My mother had a British passport, and that made us consider the idea of moving to the UK. I really wanted to come here because I wanted to explore the culture and improve my English. My parents were very understanding and we ended up moving here in 2012.
“After moving, I found life really relaxing. Reading has a lot of peace and quiet; so many green and open spaces and such fresh air. Yet the town also has super-quick links to London and Heathrow. Another bonus is that we are surrounded by a kind of Silicon Valley here, with loads of international tech companies making Reading their base. Ideal for me!”
Once studying at the University of Reading, Sangam was delighted to find a high level of support, not just in his excellent tutoring and teaching but also with settling down comfortably and finding placements that will be key to his career.
Placements and volunteering are a key focus at the University of Reading, ensuring students develop the life skills to complement their academic studies. All programmes in the School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences have the option of a paid Professional Placement Year and/or a summer placement, which can take students around the world, as well as the UK, within a variety of sectors. Dedicated Placement Coordinators support students like Sangam throughout all aspects of the placement search and application process.
Sangam attests to this and particularly lauds Claire Newbold, lead for the year and summer placement scheme, for her proactive and helpful approach to his ambitions.
“She helped me a lot, both in applying for placements and welcoming me to the University. I really appreciate her and all the other staff. The University of Reading is fantastic at placements and of course it’s situated extremely well. It’s easy for London, which is where my placement is, but it’s also surrounded by world-class companies.”
A ground-breaking placement
Working closely with Claire, Sangam began to look around for the most suitable placement for his ambitions.
“I wanted to do something obviously relating to my degree. I was looking at what career path I will follow later. So I was looking at the data science field – analysing and putting data to use.”
Although the summer of 2020 obviously brought other issues to the world, namely the pandemic, Claire and her colleagues continued their support for students to find the best placements for their skills and ambitions. Sangam was thrilled when he was offered his position doing COVID-19 Modelling at the Department of Health and Social Care, where he even encountered Sir Chris Whitty!
“It's pretty amazing. To go into that government department as your first role. Really it is a huge step for me. It was surreal to begin with, especially with the timing of being related to the biggest thing the world is facing right now. It's an honour, that's all I can say.
“You know what they’re doing is groundwork for humanity moving forwards.”
Sangam is confident he’s chosen the right subject for him, not least because data and computer science is such an important field: “As we all know, it is probably the future”. For Sangam, the ultimate aim with his placements and degree is to find himself analysing or manipulating data.