March 2022 National Student Data Corps Data Science Career Panel


Guest Post: Lekha Chunduri

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


On March 25th, 2022, the National Student Data Corps (NSDC) hosted the seventh Data Science Career Panel, in honor of Women’s History Month. The panel showcased three women excelling in the field of data science as panelists, and they brought insightful and motivating perspectives to the conversation, discussing the field and each of their unique backgrounds. The talk was co-moderated by Emily Rothenberg, the Program Coordinator for the NSDC, and Haleigh Stewart, an Undergraduate Senior at Columbia University and Project Coordinator for the NSDC.

The National Student Data Corps is hosted by the Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub and was created as a community-developed initiative with a special focus on underserved institutions, students, and communities. It is the premier program in the Hub’s Education and Data Literacy Focus Area. Since its launch in February 2021 as the Northeast Student Data Corps, the NSDC community has grown to over 2,000 members throughout the United States and across the world, expanding to nineteen countries including Australia, Botswana, Canada, Ecuador, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Ghana, India, Lebanon, Mali, Mexico, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Philippines, South Korea, Turkey, and United Arab Emirates. In Fall 2021, the NSDC was rebranded as the National Student Data Corps, as it has grown into a national program with a vast international reach.

In the March 2022 edition of the Data Science Career Panel series, the three panelists came from distinct and diverse backgrounds: Albina Shapiro is the Lead Data Scientist at Nielsen, Metika Sikka is a Data Science Fellow at Quantum Black, a McKinsey Company, and Romane Goldmuntz is a Data Scientist at Newell Brands.

Haleigh and Emily began the discussion with each panelist’s respective data science journey, as well as what excites them about the field. All the three women had such versatile and well-rounded backgrounds.

Albina spoke about her previous experience exploring different departments and roles, from being an individual contributor to positions in management.

Metika talked about her background rooted in statistics, her experience working in data science both in India and in the United States, and how later she explored various industries in which data science is integrated. She spoke about how there is a lot of creativity that goes into data science, other than merely technical skills.

Romane talked about her background in studying business engineering in Belgium. Wanting to explore and actively engage in data science further, she moved to the United States for advanced studies and worked in different organizations before her current role at Newell Brands. 

When discussing what influenced their decisions to become data scientists in global companies, the three panelists gave helpful advice for those looking to break into the corporate world. Metika gave a unique take on how working in consulting roles can be a great starting point for those beginning their careers in data science. Metika and Romane addressed how there are more opportunities to learn when you work with the various types of data you receive at large companies. Romane spoke about the importance of strengthening your network and how connecting to people truly helps you learn more about your suitability for particular positions. Albina then addressed how we can be creative with how we go about entering into the corporate world, particularly leveraging social media and the internet to express interest.

Albina and Metika addressed which technical skills and software tools are preferred and the importance of a computer science background in data science. Metika explained that different roles will demand different sets of skills – one example being the distinct difference between the skills associated with computer science, which are more software-oriented, and those of data science. Albina then advised that panel attendees read job descriptions and interpret the sets of skills they demand in order to see the vast similarities across data science role requirements. 

Romane and Albina discussed how they expect the data science field to innovate and adapt within the coming five to ten years. Romane highlighted that, as upcoming data scientists adapt to solve problems that may arise, they will still rely on the basics and consider them essential to advance in the future. Albina mentioned how increasing interpretability and democratization in data science will become very important, particularly with regard to data science ethics, as it works to counter unfair bias that may present itself in data science models.

As the panel was dedicated to Women’s History Month, all three panelists gave their invaluable input on groups and organizations which help all types of women enter the field of data science and find job opportunities. The promoted organizations included Correlation One, Women in Data, Girls in Tech, and the Anita B Organization

The final question gave the panelists an opportunity to give advice to those who don’t have a background in data science or experience with software tools, but would like to get started in the data science field. Albina started with explaining how important it is to gain hands-on learning through projects and available datasets online. To add to that, Metika mentioned that Kaggle is a great resource for structured data, and that a huge part of data is web-scraping and data cleaning, so gaining practical familiarity with those skills is important. Romane offered a piece of advice for those starting today: If you find yourself with questions, simply search the internet for answers. You will find many resources designed to help you!

With the panel discussion concluded, Emily explained in detail the variety of free resources provided by the NSDC for learners and educators in data science. She went over the Learner Central, the Educator Central, as well as the Volunteer Central and Career Central. There is also the NSDC Chapter System where you can start or join an NSDC Chapter at your institution or in your region. Chapter members benefit from data science resources, mentorship, research, volunteer, and career opportunities to launch or further their data science journeys.

Emily also encouraged student and mentor participation in a new NSDC program for undergraduate and graduate students at private, public and community colleges around the world: the NSDC’s Inaugural Data Science Symposium (NSDC DSS)! This program provides a virtual forum for students to present their research, learn about academic research best practices, network with other data science students, and grow their data science knowledge and community. Feel free to visit the NSDC DSS webpage to learn more about how to participate as an NSDC Explorer, Mentor, or Judge.

The next session of the panel was the open Q&A session, kicked off with the panelists telling the attendees what they wished they had known when they were in school: Be open-minded and flexible about what roles you go for, and learn as you go; persevere and stay positive; and be patient that things will work out for you and for your data.

The open Q&A session was led and facilitated by REAL Volunteers, Lekha and Priya. The panelists opened up about the creativity that goes into data science, as well as how to go about progressing your career in data science, special tips for standing out in job applications, and how to validate your technical and soft-skills through certifications. They also compared starting a career in a start-up company versus starting in a large corporation, the motivation it takes to keep going and look past job rejections, how and where you can find socially impactful projects in the industry and ethical data, and much more.

The open Q&A session was wrapped up with Emily’s final question to Florence D. Hudson, the Executive Director of the Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub, about how a beginner in data science can benefit from joining the NSDC. Florence provided an in-depth explanation of the wonderful resources the NSDC provides for the benefit and well-being of the community.

Finally, the panel came to a close with Haleigh thanking everybody who contributed to the March 2022 panel and displaying how we can stay in touch with the NSDC through various platforms:

Find more information about the National Student Data Corps on our website
Connect with us and fellow data science enthusiasts by joining the NSDC Slack community
Sign up for the NSDC newsletter
Follow the Hub on Twitter at @nebigdatahub and the Northeast Student Data Corps at @data_corps
Follow the Hub on Instagram and LinkedIn
Become a REAL Volunteer for the NSDC
Start or Join an NSDC Chapter
Email us at contact@nebigdatahub.org with any questions or comment