October 2021 Northeast Student Data Corps Data Science Career Panel

Guest Post: Macy Moujabber

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

On October 29, 2021, the Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub hosted the fifth National Student Data Corps Data Science Career Panel. The talk was co-moderated by Haleigh Stewart, Undergraduate Senior at Columbia University and Project Coordinator for the National Student Data Corps (NSDC), and Benjamin (Benjy) Sango, who is also an Undergraduate Senior at Columbia University and Student Leader at the Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub.

The National Student Data Corps is led by the Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub and was created as a community-developed initiative. It is the premier program in the Hub’s Education and Data Literacy focus area. Since launching in February 2021 as the Northeast Student Data Corps, the NSDC community has grown to 1,700 members from across the United States and seven countries around the world including Australia, Germany, India, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Turkey, and the 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 an international reach. The NSDC provides free online data science resources for learners and educators, from beginner topics to advanced data science, including programming. It also features support for career development to guide students through their career search and application process. 

In her introduction to the October NSDC Career Panel, Haleigh mentioned the REAL (Research Experience And Leadership) Volunteer Program to the audience. This program offers volunteer opportunities for students to be involved with the NSDC’s work through content development or online events. Haleigh also outlined the NSDC’s growing Chapter system and noted the steps students can take to start or join an NSDC chapter. Lauren Close, the Hub’s Operations & Communications Manager, announced that there is a full-time job opportunity available for an NSDC Program Coordinator.

The panelists for this month’s Career Panel included three professionals in data science with different backgrounds, showing various paths to data science: Yoni Malchi, Managing Director and Head of Artificial Intelligence Research at World Wide Technology; Asya Spears, Doctoral Candidate at Pardee RAND Graduate School and Chief Encouraging Officer at Rose Data Studio; and Brandon Sepulvado, Data Scientist at NORC, University of Chicago. The panelists introduced themselves and discussed their journeys through data science and what excites them about the field the most. When the panelists were asked what they are most enthusiastic about for the future of data science, Yoni mentioned the innovation in the data science industry. Asya described the connection between industry and academia as what motivated her to pursue data science and found Rose Data Studios. Brandon explained how he discovered his passion for data science while pursuing a degree in sociology.

Benjy, the panel co-moderator, then asked the panelists for tips to prepare for a successful journey in data science. Asya highlighted redefining what “success” means for her, and adopting a growth mindset in both technical and soft skills, and explained the importance of understanding job roles and how they fit into a company’s work style. Yoni noted the value of having an open mind towards new opportunities and breaking out of your mold to explore new fields.

When asked about groups, communities, or professional organizations geared towards data science, Brandon mentioned local and virtual meetups that help build skills and network with others. In terms of professional societies, he mentioned the American Statistical Association, which Asya was a member of, as a useful space for job seekers who would like to work in or around government. Yoni also emphasized the importance of meetups and communities such as the NSDC for growing a network of like-minded individuals and getting involved in industries that excite you.

Benjy asked the panelists about how they think the data science field will innovate and adapt over the coming 5 to 10 years and beyond. Yoni highlighted use cases related to visualization and Natural Language Processing (NLP) as areas he believes are emerging. A useful skill mentioned was software development concepts to complement data science applications. Asya is looking forward to role-based data training to match employees’ growing interests, and Brandon mentioned federal-based data science.

After the formal panel session, questions were sourced from the audience.  The panelists were asked what they know now as data scientists that they wish they knew when they were in school. The panelists mentioned the importance of finding and valuing your unique path to a career in data science, exploring data science problems that challenge and excite you, and remembering to enjoy the journey.

Haleigh wrapped up the initial conversation by thanking all the facilitators, panelists, and outreach team who facilitated this event and shared ways to stay engaged with the NSDC.

The post-panel Q&A was led by Benjy and Pritika Gulati, a REAL volunteer at the Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub. Panelists shared the challenges that come with entering the data science field from unconventional backgrounds, the value of data visualization, the benefits of being generalists and specialists, and the typical structure of a data scientist / analyst interview. The panelists helped us see that there are many paths to data science. 

We invite you to stay in touch with the NSDC community and receive updates about future events and opportunities! You can…