MSDS Residential Student Profile: Brandtly Jones

January 20, 2023

Brandtly Jones pictureBrandtly Jones

M.S. in Data Science Candidate, University of Virginia
M.A. (2006) and Ph.D. (2008) in Classics and Indo-European Linguistics, Cornell University
B.A. in Classics 1998, University of Tennessee

Dyersburg, Tennessee
Has lived in Charlottesville since 2008


Q: Tell us about your path to Data Science.
Though a long-time math enthusiast, I was seduced by the siren song of Classics in high school and college. Attending a large university, I found small classes with close personal connections with faculty in the Classics department. Studying abroad in Greece cemented my desire to continue to pursue Classics at the graduate level.

My PhD thesis involved, inter alia, a statistical analysis of linguistic features in early Greek poetry (e.g. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey). A graduate statistical consulting class took me on as a ‘client’ and helped me evaluate some of the statistical claims of a well-known Classics scholar. I learned enough to understand and evaluate the statistical claims for my own research, but I was far from being a practitioner myself.

I taught Latin for nearly 15 years at a high school in Charlottesville and enjoyed many things about the job. I encountered a former colleague in the summer of 2019 who had just left teaching to study Data Science at UVA in the MSDS program. I had heard of Machine Learning and AI, but I had only a vague idea of what they really were, so inspired by our conversation, I took Andrew Ng’s excellent free Introduction to Machine Learning from Coursera.

From that point, I slowly circled around data science. I consumed a lot of media around field and took online courses in statistics and programming to build up my skills. Teaching through the pandemic was a challenge, and this May the timing made sense to jump in and focus solely on pursuing data science as a new career.

Q: What do you hope to do with a Data Science Master's Degree?
I have many interests within data science and among domains that use data science. I enjoy natural language processing, geospatial analysis, the list goes on. I am open to many different career paths, and I appreciate the fact that there is always more to learn.

Q: What has surprised you about the MSDS program so far?
The fact that the faculty at the SDS come from a variety of backgrounds. We have faculty who are experts in anthropology, political science, economics, material science, sports medicine, as well as the expected disciplines of statistics and computer science. This speaks to the enormous impact data science has in so many areas of modern life.

Q: What has been your favorite class so far and why?
I really enjoyed Jon Kropko’s course on the Practice and Application of Data Science. The course was practical and hands-on. Kropko modeled the practice of “getting unstuck” by knowing enough to know what you don’t know and finding what you need to accomplish a task.

Q: What advice would you give to someone considering a Master’s in Data Science?
Consider the pathways. There are endless resources to learn about data science independently, but the MSDS program puts those skills into the context of the jobs and opportunities available to data scientists. The career counseling and networking opportunities provide the real value over just learning to do machine learning on your own.

Q: What are some fun facts about yourself?
My wife and I took our honeymoon in Tanzania and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro.
I’ve seen the band Phish perform over 80 times in 20 different states and 5 countries.