Through the UK Space Agency Space Placements in Industry (SPIN) Program, Rebecca Murray-Watson worked with Little Place Labs as an Earth Observation Data-Science intern over the past summer.
Bosco Lai, CEO of Little Place Labs reflects on Rebecca's internship: "Rebecca has been an invaluable contributor to our missions at Little Place Labs, from market research to product design, to getting involved in some of the cutting-edge machine learning development. Thank you UK Space Agency and Catapult for supporting this internship through their Space Placements in Industry (SPIN) program."
Rebecca also shared some thoughts upon the completion of the program:
Q: What drew you to the UK Space Agency SPIN program and Little Place Labs?
Having only experienced research in an academic setting, I was keen to do an internship during my PhD to gain new experiences and inform my decisions about what to do after I hand in my thesis. I came across the UK Space Agency SPIN program through researching different internship schemes. I recognised it would be a great way to learn more about the UK Space Sector whilst also developing new skills. I was particularly interested in Little Place Lab's project proposal because it offered me a new way to think about satellite data; it forms the basis of my PhD research, but I'm not involved in its collection or processing. My placement at Little Place Labs allowed me to dive into how satellite data acquisition works and introduced me to novel techniques, such as edge computing.
Q: What did you expect coming into this summer?
Honestly, I wasn't sure what to expect. Little Place Labs is at quite an early stage, so I think I imagined the archetypal startup; a fast-paced environment with everybody frantically working to deadlines. Luckily it was much more relaxed and friendly than that (for the interns, anyway!), so I still got to enjoy my summer.
Q: What are some highlights of the projects that you worked on?
Getting some practical experience in cutting-edge machine learning techniques was brilliant. I'd been exposed to machine learning in various modules or hackathons, but using it to solve a real-world problem was a great experience. It was a good exercise in problem-solving, too. Satellites are resource-constrained, so in addition to thinking about how well your model is performing, you have to consider other factors, such as model size. Machine learning is a hot topic, so these skills will be invaluable to my future career.
Q: What are some lessons you learn about working in space industry and a tech startup? Any surprises?
I also learned a lot about the importance of clear communication with colleagues. I work nearly entirely on my own for my PhD, so this was a new experience. Little Place Labs is entirely remote, a common theme for tech startups, which posed some challenges. Still, we eventually fell into a comfortable rhythm. I was quite surprised that some aspects were similar to my PhD, such as taking the time to sift through research and extract insights from academic papers. Using other sources, such as GitHub profiles and blog posts, was also interesting because so many advances in machine learning are happening in non-academic spaces.
Q: What advice do you have for future interns and those considering getting into the space industry?
Take a step back, consider your experiences, and identify what skills you may be missing. An internship is an excellent way to challenge yourself to develop these skills in a short period. I realised that data science and machine learning skills were sought after in many of the sectors I was looking at, so finding an internship that allowed me to expand my knowledge in these areas was key. Also, ask lots of questions, and not just about the topic your particular project is on. I learned so much about how startups operate, from financing to market analysis, by having conversations with colleagues in different teams. But most of all, just try to enjoy it - it's such a fast-moving growing sector, so have fun being thrown into the middle of it!
Read here for more info about the UKSA SPIN program: https://sa.catapult.org.uk/work-with-us/space-placements-industry-spin/