Practice and Application Course Brings in Experts from Industry to talk to MSDS Students

November 19, 2020

How can we best prepare our students for the working world?

This is a question that Catherine Anderson, Director for Executive and Continuing Education, who managed the launch of the online MSDS program, asked herself, as she prepared to teach the second part of the Practice and Application course series to the first cohort of online MSDS students who will be graduating in December.   

The second part of the Practice and Application course series is a one-credit course that every MSDS student is required to take during their last semester prior to graduation. In its current iteration, the course is dedicated to allowing students the opportunity to explore careers in data science through connections with industry professionals.  

Catherine Anderson teaches this course and organizes speakers to come in and share their experiences with the cohort. 

“The goal of this course is to prepare students to see what kind of jobs are available to them and to prepare them to enter the job market -  to reinforce those connections between what they're learning in the classrooms with what it is like in the work world,” Anderson said. 

With this in mind, Anderson has worked to bring in some younger data scientists, who are just beginning their careers and others who are in more senior positions so that students can have both a short-term and long-term perspective as they embark upon their own journeys. 

There have been five guest speakers thus far. Anderson explained these speakers have been a combination of alumni from the School of Data Science and others have been professionals with other connections to the school. 

Fabrice Guillaume works at Capital One and spoke to the class about machine learning as a service and how to make models reusable at scale. 

Carlos Rivero is the Chief Data Officer of Virginia and began his guest lecture by explaining his fascinating career path to this position. 

Rivero also detailed the work he does as the Chief Data Officer, including how to build more citizen-centered services, improve operational efficiency of current services, and create better outcomes for constituents. 

Anderson noted that they save a significant portion of the class for questions for students to ask the guest speakers. 

“The kinds of questions they're asking the guest speakers, when they get the opportunity to is a lot about the career path, interviewing, job market trends, and certainly specifics about their jobs day-to-day so these things are at the top of their minds,” Anderson said. 

Another guest speaker was Nitin Karolla, who works at S&P as a Global Senior Machine Learning Engineer. He graduated in May 2019 and spoke to the class about being a recent grad and transitioning to the working world.  

Additional guest speakers include Jason Dalton, Gabriel Rushin, and Greg Swanson, all UVA alum. 

Jason Dalton is the CEO and founder of Azimuth1, a company that brings data analysis to environmental, energy, and public safety challenges. He spoke to the class about environmental analytics and data innovation. 

Gabriel Rushin now works at Procter & Gamble as an IT Data Scientist in Cincinnati, Ohio. 

Greg Swanson works as a Senior Data Scientist at Storyblocks, a venture-backed technology company. Swanson focused on his personal career path and how he decided to switch jobs, move places, etc. 

Before each guest lecture, Anderson provides students with information about the individual, links to their recent work and projects, and other background information. Following the class, the students write a reflection essay.

“The essay is mostly an opportunity for them to think through what the speaker addressed and how they can tie it back to specific content they've been learning in our program as well as what is required for the role the speaker described,” Anderson explained. “When they did their reflection essays, many of them got to thinking about things like - if I want to aspire to a leadership role like that how would I go about it, what roles might I want to take on, what do I need to know to get there. That's great because you really do have to be intentional about that kind of trajectory.”

Anderson noted that when students were asked how they can connect what they heard from the guest speakers to what they have learned in the program, it has been validating for students.

“For example, when Capital One came and spoke about machine learning as a service and they're throwing out the acronyms and the methods, they say ‘that's what we learned in this class!’”

Most of the speakers address the various technologies they use in their respective workplaces and our program provides exposure to so many of them.  

Anderson added that it has been extremely rewarding to see how students are connecting what they have learned throughout the program to what the guest speakers have presented in a very personal way to think about their own career goals.  She is excited to see what industries and professions the students enter into after they graduate. 

For more information on the online MSDS program, see here