Tag Archives: advice

Are Universities for Learning or Creating?

“You can’t have your cake and eat it too”. –English proverb of dubious clarity, ca. 16th century. Undergraduates are filing onto campus, which means that for high school seniors, college application season is fast approaching. The age old question starts to haunt them—how do they know which schools they should apply to? Do they even
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How to become a data scientist before you graduate

So you’re considering careers outside of academia, and you’ve heard all the data science hype. Sounds like a pretty good gig, doesn’t it? But because data science means different things to different people, it can be hard to figure out just what you should do now to prepare yourself for a job as a data scientist after you graduate.

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Conveniently, data science isn’t very different from graduate research—in fact, there are some small but important ways you can change your time in grad school that will make you feel like you’re already a data scientist by the time you graduate. I’ve had a lot of fun taking this approach for the last year and a half, and I’m feeling pretty good about my job prospects once I graduate in December. Plus, many of the steps I explain here are also applicable to other non-academic careers, especially in the Bay Area tech scene. (Take all this with a grain of salt, though: I don’t have a job lined up yet!)

With no further ado, here are 10 things I’ve done during grad school to become a data scientist.

1. Start early. This is a long list and most of the steps take time. Plus, the sooner you start thinking about this stuff, the sooner you can decide if data science is a good fit for you. Better to find that out before you get the job than after!
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The MacGyver manifesto

Richard Dean Anderson as MacGyver

I did not spend my elementary-school-era Saturday mornings watching cartoons. No, when I pounced on the couch at 5:30 am with my bowl of cereal, I tuned in to the wise tutelage of Angus MacGyver, the lead character of the TV series “MacGyver”. MacGyver, as portrayed by Richard Dean Anderson from 1985 until 1992, was a special agent who solved problems using practical science and engineering. On a weekly basis, he out-thought poachers, drug dealers, communist spies, and any other bad guys he crossed paths with. In doing so, he served as a role model who was drastically different from the muscle-bound “men of action” who littered ‘80s television and film.

My affection for the television series goes beyond nostalgia; I credit “MacGyver” as a significant inspiration to my scientific career. By watching the show, I learned from a young age that cleverness and compassion were much more effective tools in combating “evil” than gunpowder and brawn. Now as a graduate student, I’ve come to realize that “MacGyver” also contains many lessons that are relevant to the broader scientific community.

For instance, MacGyver was a master of applying old science in surprising new ways. In life-or-death situations, he could always be counted on to come up with a creative solution to a problem. It’s true, scientific research is rarely life-or-death, but we are all occasionally overwhelmed — more often than not because our experimental data isn’t coming out as theory predicts. We start to wonder: “do I even know the science necessary to describe the phenomenon correctly?” In that moment of doubt, try to think like MacGyver. Even though the perfect tools might not be available, there must be something lying around the lab that will get the ball rolling. A great scientist needs to apply that MacGyver-esque mindset of being flexible and making due with limited resources.
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