Bringing creativity and quant skills to work


This story is part of a School of Data Science series featuring the experiences of our MS in Data Science alumni and the paths they've taken to their data science careers. 

Shaoran Li
MSDS '19 alumna Shaoran Li is now a data scientist at Nielsen.

For MSDS ‘19 alumna Shaoran Li, data science is about bringing together her passion for quantitative analysis and design. 

Li was born and raised in China, but she moved to Canada for both her high school and college education. Following her undergraduate education, where she received a degree in statistics and actuarial science, Li was hired as a Business Intelligence Analyst at TD Securities in Toronto. After working there for almost two years, Li began to explore options for graduate degrees in data science. 

UVA’s Master of Science in Data Science program drew Li for a multitude of reasons.

“I heard good reviews [about the program] from an acquaintance,” Li says. “The MSDS program at UVA has a longer history compared to other data analytics programs. And the program is actually about data science, not program management.”

Li began thinking about what her future career as a data scientist might look like almost immediately after starting the program.

“I started searching pretty early, in the fall, around September,” Li stated. 

And she asked herself: Do I want a job more focused on programming or designing? Is there a data science job that would allow me to express my creativity and use my quantitative skills? What job would allow me to best apply the skill set I obtained in the MSDS program?

For Li’s job search, the fall semester was all about practice. She wanted to practice interviewing, taking job assessments, and searching for jobs that would be a good fit. Throughout the fall, Li had a series of interviews and even landed a job offer. However, she had hesitations about this first job offer and decided, since it was early, she would keep looking. 

Early in the spring semester, Li found position that peaked her interest—Data Scientist at Nielsen in Columbia, Maryland. 

Nielsen bills itself as a “global measurement and data analytics company that provides the most complete and trusted view available of consumers and markets worldwide.” Specifically, Nielson provides data and analysis on consumer behaviors within the media, both television and radio, and advertising. 

In the job description, Li noted that the skills she had gained in the MSDS program would be well used. The job requirements included knowledge of Python, a programming language she used extensively as a graduate student. She would also have to leverage large data sets for innovative solutions and collaborate with teammates in research projects—just like she did for her capstone project. 

Li felt confident her MSDS degree had prepared her well, so she decided to apply. Her practice with the job search process in the fall most definitely paid off, as Li passed through each round with flying colors. 

However, there was another component Li was looking for in a job. She knew she wanted to build on her quantitative skill set from the MSDS, and she also wanted a job where she would be exposed to data science design and methodology. Li wanted to tap into her creativity, which she knew from being a student is an essential component of data science. 

“I don’t see myself as a programmer,” Li noted. “This position fit me well. There is a real focus on designing and communicating data.”

Working as a data scientist at Nielsen provides exposure and experience in both quantitative and creative areas. Specifically, Nielsen produces visualizations for the public based on the data they have engineered and analyzed. At the core of Nielsen’s mission is its use of data, and to make this data accessible to the public using visualization tools. 

Currently, Li is working within the media umbrella of Nielsen. Li explained that many people think of TV ratings when Nielsen’s work in the media comes to mind. However, there is another aspect to the analysis Nielsen does—radio. Using audio measurement, the company helps advertisers reach their audiences. 

Li has already been able to channel her creative energy into her work, using the data visualization software Tableau to provide visualizations based on the data acquired from audio sampling and measurement. And she is already applying and building upon the skills she developed on Grounds. 

“In this job, I’m getting my foot in the door, learning more about working with real-world data and real-world problems, doing analysis, and getting a feel for what it is to be a data scientist.”


To be featured as an alum, contact School of Data Science Communications Associate Meg Evett.


Communications Associate