January 2023 National Student Data Corps Data Science Career Panel

poster for the NSDC Career panel featuring Emily Javan (UT Austin), Gianmarco Gabrieli (IBM), and Kobi Abayomi (Warner Music Group)

Written by: Sumedh Datar

A recording of this event is available at the Northeast Big Data Hub’s YouTube channel.

On January 13th, 2023, the National Student Data Corps (NSDC) hosted its 11th Data Science Panel, designed to showcase the various educational and professional opportunities in the field of data science. Emily Rothenberg, the NSDC Program Coordinator, and Sanket Bhandari, a Columbia University Data Science master’s student, were the moderators for this panel. The panel discussion was presided over by Florence Hudson, the Executive Director of the Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub (NEBDHub) and Founder of the NSDC.

The NEBDHub, a program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), uses its platform to fuel data science innovation and collaboration around the world. The NSDC is the NEBDHub’s premier program within its Education + Data Literacy Focus Area, providing free, open, online data science fundamentals to learners worldwide, with an emphasis on underserved institutions and communities.

The panel featured three professional data scientists with distinguished backgrounds in their respective fields: Emily Javan, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate and researcher at The University of Texas at Austin; Gianmarco Gabrieli, a Pre-Doctoral Researcher at IBM on the AI for Scientific Discovery team; and Dr. Kobi Abayomi, the Senior Vice President of Data Science at Warner Music Group (WMG).

The discussion opened with each panelist describing their professional pathways in the field of  data science. Emily Javan spoke about how she started with learning pure mathematics without having any knowledge of computers. She later moved towards biology, specifically in disease discovery, and discovered that data science tools could be used to analyze disease data, which led her to pursue a career in data science. Gianmarco Gabrieli discussed his background in electronics and physics, and discovered that data science tools were helpful in analyzing sensor data. Finally, Dr. Kobi Abayomi talked about his interest in statistics and music, and how he searched for a job where he could apply statistical techniques to music data. All the panelists shared a common thread – they were passionate about solving problems and they found data science to be the solution, leading each panelist toward their unique journeys in the field.

Sanket Bhandari then asked the panelists to share data science resources that would be most helpful to those entering the field. All three panelists agreed on the importance of mentors, colleagues, and peers throughout their journey. Gianmarco Gabrieli emphasized the importance of educational resources and programming, while Dr. Kobi Abayomi talked about how he met data science experts and enthusiasts at conferences like the Conference for African-American Researchers in the Mathematical Sciences (CAARMS). Emily Javan had an interesting perspective on how continued curiosity and self-motivation were key to her success in data science. She found solutions to problems she enjoyed solving outside of academia, which helped her transition into the field.

The panelists then discussed which technical tools are most frequently used in their data science professions. Most panelists stated that Python and R are common languages used in their roles. Dr. Kobi Abayomi mentioned that he also uses Julia and Databricks, while Gianmarco Gabrieli uses MATLAB for his research and relies on a tool called Mendeley to stay up to date with the latest research.

The group then discussed which core, non-technical skills are most important in their roles. Emily Javan emphasized the importance of self-organization and project management skills, as well as effective communication. Gianmarco Gabrieli agreed with Emily Javan and added that communicating about data is a key skill, along with the ability to multitask. He also highlighted the importance of using data visualization to explain outcomes to non-technical audiences. Dr. Kobi Abayomi agreed, stating that data visualization has a huge impact on explaining the insights and outcomes of data.

The panelists then explained how their roles have changed over time. Emily Javan spoke about how she has had to take on multiple activities in her role, such as managing her lab’s social media account, keeping up with the latest research, and performing her day job as a data scientist. Dr. Kobi Abayomi emphasized the importance of learning on the job and staying updated with research papers, journals, and books. Gianmarco Gabrieli mentioned that his role has evolved with each job he has taken on. In summary, the roles of data scientists are never fixed or stagnant, and one should be prepared to adapt to any situation and be willing to take on multiple responsibilities.

Sanket Bhandari introduced the next topic by asking about the future of data science. Gianmarco Gabrieli shared his view on how data science will be applied to climate change and drug discovery in the near future, while Dr. Kobi Abayomi talked about the potential of quantum computing to revolutionize deep learning models and reduce energy consumption. Emily Javan discussed how data science can be used in cellular agriculture, waste management, and ocean clean-up to bring positive impact to these fields.

Lastly, Sanket Bhandari asked about how to get started with data science without any background knowledge. Emily Javan and Gianmarco Gabrieli agreed that being self-motivated to solve a problem is important, while Dr. Kobi Abayomi suggested going to websites like Data Camp, which helps equip data enthusiasts with data science skills.

After concluding the panel discussion, Emily Rothenberg shared some of the NSDC’s resources available to students interested in the world of data science, including the NSDC Learner Central, Educator Central, Video Library, Chapter Central, and the REAL Volunteer Program, among others.

Emily Rothenberg then opened up the Q&A session by asking the panelists some audience-generated questions. The first question asked the panelists to explain something they know now that they wished they had known earlier in their careers. Gianmarco Gabrieli reflected on his career and explained how failed experiments are helpful in the journey to success, an insight with which  Emily Javan concurred and explained that it is important to fail fast and move ahead. 

Sanket Bhandari then asked Gianmarco Gabrieli and Emily Javan whether a person needs a college degree to get started with data science. Gianmarco Gabrieli spoke about the motivation and curiosity required to reinvent oneself which may drive a person to get started with the evolving and growing field of data science; this process may lead to pursuing a data science degree or learning data science tools through other online platforms. Emily Javan shared her experience that showcasing work through platforms like GitHub can help recruiters and hiring managers assess a person’s work as they embark on an educational or professional data science journey. 

With that, Emily Rothenberg and Florence Hudson wrapped up the panel by thanking each panelist for their contributions, as well as the people on the NSDC HQ team and student volunteers.


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