How a Master of Business Analytics led Thomas Duke to McKinsey & Company
The world is a puzzle to Thomas Duke, who's always wanted to know how it fits together. Now he's finding out.
Curiosity has taken the Master of Business Analytics graduate straight from the classroom into his current role as a business analyst at global consultancy McKinsey & Company.
"There wasn't a gap. I graduated and then went straight in after final exams, and now, as a business analyst, I work with a variety of clients to solve different problems," says Thomas, who couldn’t be happier.
"I consistently get to apply the business analytics toolkit here, which includes both quantitative elements, such as applied statistics, financial modelling or qualitative elements, such as knowing how to communicate insights to C-level clients."
After high school, Thomas wanted to know how the world fitted together, exploring his passion for solving problems through multiple avenues of study.
"I was really interested in math and science at high school, but then I studied an arts degree to broaden my education across economics and politics and get a better understanding of how the world fits together. I also did a statistics major," he says.
"What brought me to the field of analytics was a passion for solving problems at the intersection of economics, statistics and social science."
Realising the impact he could have using analytics, Thomas decided to forgo further economics study in favour of deeper analytics knowledge.
"After I finished my undergraduate degree, I was tossing up between two options – doing honours in economics or an advanced analytics program," he says.
"I decided to do the Master of Business Analytics at Melbourne Business School because I felt it was a more practical degree and would unlock a wide range of opportunities for me. I didn't look at any other alternative because I’ve had a long-standing connection to the University of Melbourne and wanted to be on campus there."
Thomas gained more than a foundation in business knowledge and technical skills through the analytics program – he gained practical skills too.
"After our first module, that's when the program really started to differentiate itself," he says.
"We did practical hands-on workshops in topics like machine learning, natural language processing and strategic thinking, such as how you might communicate a story to someone in the C-suite.
"The program really distinguished itself by bringing together three components – the language of business, the technical problem solving toolkit, and the deep statistical rigour that provides the mathematical foundation to get the right answers."
Thomas's journey included taking part in the annual Melbourne Business Analytics Datathon, held each year in conjunction with the Melbourne Business Analytics Conference, in which students race to apply their knowledge to industry data.
"It was a very intense 48-hour experience where we received access to a wide range of private data sets from industry sponsors," he says.
"We picked the AFL data set. The AFL sponsors were trying to understand whether or not they could make the AFL fixture more equitable because every team has different skillsets and abilities year to year.
"We used their data to run a Monte Carlo Simulation, where you run thousands of different seasons of the AFL with different initial conditions, observe the outcomes and draw conclusions from that.
"That took us the whole 48 hours to get right but it was very exciting and, in the end, our team was invited to go to the Analytics Conference where we presented our final pitch to the judges and we were lucky enough to receive three awards for the competition."
Another standout experience for Thomas was his industry internship through the Centre for Business Analytics A-Lab program.
"It was about jumping into a real-world experience and applying the tools that we'd learnt," he says.
"I went to SEEK where I did a piece of work looking at how job ads affect gender bias in applicant pools.
"Those two experiences enabled me to see that what I'd learned in the classroom could be actually brought into a real-world context and have a lot of impact. It was incredibly rewarding."
Thomas says that for other Master of Business Analytics students following in his footsteps, the best thing to do is jump in at the deep end.
"The statistical and quantitative components are often the parts that some students find the most difficult, but they're the ones that are the most important to get right," he says.
"In a business context, it's really important to have someone who is close to the numbers and understands them and has the rigour to apply the right tools at the right time.
"Understanding context is the qualitative component. If you've got the right answer but you can't communicate it, then you may not even have an answer at all because people won't be able to understand your core insight.
"As a business analyst, your goal is to bring those two things together and make sure you are looking for the synthesis of the quantitative and the qualitative to help clients or businesses solve their problems."