CDS hosts women in data-driven careers in 2018 event

Five incredible women share their stories about working in the data science field

Last week, CDS hosted the Women in Data group’s most recent event — the Women in Data-Driven Careers in 2018 panel. Organized and moderated by Dr. Norma A. Padrón, the Associate Director of MLHS Center for Population Health Research at LIMR, the event brought together five accomplished women who are working in data science: Cindy Chin, Dr. Noami Derzsy, Dr. Sinziana Eckner, Vivian Zhang, and Anne Warren.

After general introductions, the panel began by exploring how family has impacted their careers in the past and present. For Dr. Eckner, who is currently a Data Scientist at JP Morgan Chase (and an NYU alum!), her parental units were remarkably relaxed.

“My mum was in Romania,” she said with a grin, “so I got to do whatever I wanted.” Contrast this with Dr. Derzsy, who is currently Data Science Fellow at the Insight program. “My dad is a huge nerd,” she explained. “He showed me circuit boards when I was a child. Both my parents work in higher education, so they were always very involved with what I was doing academically.”

Perhaps Dr. Derzsy’s parents were ahead of the curve, because taking greater involvement with our children’s education has become a trend for mothers. For example, Chin, an entrepreneur, venture strategist, and consultant, explained how she rediscovered her interest in coding when she her twelve year-old daughter was learning how to code at school. “It’s incredible,” Chin said, “when your own children can inspire you like that.”

Chin, who works across multiple time zones daily, is also (along with Dr. Derzsy) a NASA Datanaut, a program devoted to promoting data science, coding, and gender diversity. In between her role at NASA, raising her daughter, and consulting, then, like most working mothers Chin’s schedule is tight. When asked what she would learn if she had more time, Chin said that she would like to take a strong Python course — and, luckily, there’s a school just for that!

The NYC Data Science Academy, one of the city’s top data science bootcamp centers, is co-run by Zhang, a fellow panelist. Not only is she the academy’s Chief Technology Officer, but Zhang is also of the Founder of the NYC Open Data Meetup group of over 4000 members.

“Our goal,” Zhang stated, “is to help people utilize open data.” With a strong background in computer science and statistics, Zhang explained that she was planning to earn her doctorate until a professor pointed out that she was equipped to do many interesting things with data already. Instead of pursuing her doctorate, then, she ended up successfully selling her first software in 2002.

Zhang still keeps one foot in academia, however, through her position as an adjunct professor at Stony Brook University, leading moderator Dr. Padrón to ask whether one should choose academia or industry after their degree. “There’s so much pressure in academia to stay,” Dr. Padrón said. “Isn’t there some fear when you step outside of it?”

For almost all the panelists, remembering to remain open-minded was key. While transitioning from academia to industry may seem daunting, Dr. Derzsy explained, programs like Insight can help data scientists adjust to the expectations of industry work. For Warren, a Product Manager who works at Chase Digital with Dr. Eckner’s team, another crucial tip is taking job descriptions with a grain of salt. “Even if you don’t 100% hit on all of the points on the description,” Warren said, “apply to the job. Apply, because you may have a skillset that they never knew they needed until you applied.”

The panel closed with an intriguing question from the audience. “How,” they asked, “can one best communicate with others who do not have a statistics background, especially when they have more seniority? Do you have any tips?” As the issues of gender inequality, power, and politics pervade the scientific community, learning how to communicate effectively with one another is vital.

“It’s good to be as prepared as possible,” advised Zhang thoughtfully. “And, remember that men are not always against you. Good communication occurs when you break things down, and prove your point with evidence, logic, and reason.”

by Cherrie Kwok