Data Science: Isabel Lerch - Curious about Programming

2023-06-06 The NDR employee is one of the few data journalists in Germany. This summer, she will complete the part-time Master's in Data Science at the Professional School.

Isabel Lerch ©Leuphana/Claudia Timmann
"Many opportunities open up with this degree," says Isabel Lerch.

Since the outbreak of the Corona pandemic, at the latest, it has become clear how important good data journalists are. Isabel Lerch is one of them, analyzing, interpreting and explaining data: "We are a small but growing community," says the NDR (Norddeutscher Runkfunk) employee. She first heard about the young department during her traineeship. At the time, she was the first volunteer in the NDR Data team. Today, nine people work there. "Now every major newsroom in Germany employs data journalists - from the individual ARD stations to major print and online media such as ZEIT and Spiegel," says Isabel Lerch.

She and her colleagues write, for example, about vaccination rates, the fuel discount or the risk of forest fires. "But data analysis is only part of my job," says Isabel Lerch. Researching, conducting interviews and writing articles - this is how the Hamburg native differs in her professional activities from many typical data scientists: "Many of my fellow students at the Professional School already come from IT-related jobs," reports Isabel Lerch. Two months after she started her studies in Lüneburg, she got a job in the NDR data team. "Career and studies then complemented each other well," says Isabel Lerch.

The Data Science study program prepares students to independently process and examine large volumes of complex data using current analysis methods. In several modules, students acquire subject-specific knowledge in the fields of mathematics and statistics, machine learning and the use of common IT infrastructure. In addition to gaining subject-specific knowledge, students are also enabled to identify potential areas of application for data-driven methods and to evaluate possible implications from different perspectives such as societal relevance.

Data journalists* engage in statistical programming and write program code to automatically extract and analyze relevant data from large sets. "Sometimes the analyses are the start of research, sometimes I verify a statement from an interview using data. In my studies, I learned to be able to analyze data using a programming language," says Isabel Lerch. The importance of programming skills in modern journalism is demonstrated by Wiki Leaks or the Panama Papers revelations.

In her political studies, Isabel Lerch was more concerned with qualitative methods. That's why she took another look at mathematics, statistics and the Python programming language before starting her studies at the Professional School: "You need curiosity and stamina," says the journalist. With this attitude, Isabel Lerch has come a long way: In the summer, she will complete her studies at the Leuphana Professional School.

In the meantime, she offers training courses for colleagues in the industry and can imagine expanding her professional portfolio: "I became a journalist because I want to critically classify and initiate a social debate. But with the knowledge I gained from my data science studies, I can also imagine critically examining data sets from big players and filtering information from data that benefits the common good, for example at an NGO. I can also imagine doing scientific work. This degree opens up a lot of possibilities," says Isabel Lerch.