MSDS Student Experience: 2024 INFORMS Analytics Conference

Tatev Gomtsyan and Ethan Assefa
May 14, 2024
Two data science students pose with their poster presentation at a conference
Tatev Gomtsyan and Ethan Assefa at the INFORMS Analytics Conference poster competition.

As our graduation day quickly approaches, it seems like a good time to take stock of our experience in the residential M.S. in Data Science program at UVA. A true highlight moment was attending the 2024 INFORMS Analytics Conference in Orlando in mid-April. For both of us, it was our first professional conference in the data science/analytics space, and it was exciting to be among thought leaders and innovators.

We first learned about INFORMS, an international association for professionals in analytics and Operations Research (O.R.), from our MSDS Residential Program Director Dr. Prince Afriyie. We were humbled to receive a nomination from him for the Early Career Professionals’ Network (ECPN), an exclusive 1-day workshop within the conference. 

ECPN is designed to help those beginning their journey in analytics/O.R. build professional networks and learn the practicalities of working in the field. During the workshop, we rotated through a number of small group coaching sessions, each led by an experienced practitioner who shared insights and perspectives on early careers and best practices. We also had a role-playing exercise, where our groups were tasked with developing a strategy to improve supply chain logistics and day-to-day operations for a hypothetical client. 

Data Science students discuss their poster presentation
Gomtsyan and Assefa discuss their poster presentation with a conference attendee.

One of the conference highlights was being selected to present our work at the student poster competition. We shared our findings from our project, an analysis of the average annual income gap between white and minority-owned businesses in the US. We received valuable feedback from attendees and engaged in enriching conversations with other presenters. Discussing the thinking behind our process and the conclusions we drew with an engaged audience was just the motivation and assurance we needed!

The bulk of the conference consisted of speaker sessions in various tracks, led by accomplished professionals with years of experience in research and industry. The myriad topics were so intriguing that we wanted to be everywhere all at once. It was difficult to choose from the seemingly infinite sessions, so we made a pact to mostly attend different ones and exchange our new knowledge with each other afterward. 

Ethan: “I may be biased, but one of my favorite sessions was on Public Affairs and Advocacy in the Analytics Landscape. In the session, we got the opportunity to discuss data analytics work that is often taking place between public sector groups (NGOs, non-profits, etc.) and all levels of government. That talk was fascinating, not just because I had the chance to learn about many tools for data advocacy available to me, but also because of the others I met in the audience. Many of us got to talking about side projects for the public good and other work we can get involved in and we created a group chat to share ideas. It was great meeting enthusiastic colleagues who are also passionate about the type of public sector work I am interested in!”

Tatev: “I attended a particularly impactful session on effective communication in the workplace that reminded me of the power of language. The open dialogue and solidarity I witnessed among the women there were nothing short of inspiring and empowering. We learned techniques for exuding confidence, making switches in our verbal and non-verbal communication, and being advocates for ourselves and others in professional settings. I was pleased to discover opportunities for further discussion and mentorship offered by the Women in OR/MS (WORMS) division of INFORMS, which I happily attended. Beyond that, I also enjoyed a talk on assessing and improving workplace conditions based on employee feedback through NLP. Many of the techniques discussed were ones I used in my capstone project, so I was eager to learn about disparate applications and pick the speakers’ brains about the technicalities of their work.”

2024 Edelman Gala tabletop scene with program, dinnerware and decor
Edelman Gala at 2024 INFORMS Analytics Conference.

We believe the format of the conference lent itself well to forming new connections. Each meal and coffee chat served as a built-in opportunity to meet and network with people from around the world. The denouement of the event was the Edelman Gala, where everyone came dressed to the nines to celebrate the finalists and crown the winner of the renowned Franz Edelman Award

We both agree this trip was the cherry on top for our MSDS experience. We became fast friends with peers from top university programs, received valuable feedback and advice from the people at INFORMS, and exchanged ideas and thoughts with others along the way. We look forward to continuing our involvement with the organization, attending similar events in the future, and keeping in touch with all our new contacts. A sincere thank you to the faculty at UVA School of Data Science whose enthusiastic support and encouragement made this trip possible!