DA 301 students join with the community of Women in Analytics

DA 301 students join with the community of women in analytics - img-0471-300x225.jpg image #0

Denison University is lucky to be positioned so close to the Columbus metro area, a growing hub for technology and data analytics. On March 15, a sold out (450+ attendees) Women in Analytics conference (#WIA2018) featured female leaders in industrial and academic applications for data analytics. Best of all, the meeting was held at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, a short 30 minute drive from Denison.

I am currently teaching the DA 301 course, Practicum in Data Analytics, where junior-level students synthesize their data wrangling, analysis, and communication skills to tackle fuzzy, open-ended problems, with real clients and real data. Students problem-solve together in the same team of 3-4 for the entire semester, which mimics the real world, where the idea of the “brilliant solo data analyst” is more of a myth than a reality. The Women in Analytics conference was open to attendees of all genders, and provided an excellent opportunity for us to practice our communication skills on the road, explore career paths, and to see real examples of folks at all levels putting data analytics skills to work. I am so lucky to have been able to take 19 students to the conference this year.

The talks were fantastic, with some focusing on learning new tools or applications to business, and many others focusing on the importance of the “soft” skills important to data analytics – like how to communicate clearly and effectively, the importance of creativity, and how to work as a positive and effective data analytics team member. As we grow our vision of an interdisciplinary, liberal arts data analytics major, it was so validating to see the breadth we bring to our classes and the lessons on teamwork, communication, and ethics being so strongly reflected in the formal presentations and in conversations with attendees. Multiple speakers talked about the need for “multidisciplinary” data analysts and teams, and the “iterative” process of conducting a data analysis.

Here are a few of my take-home messages from the conference:

    • The keynote speaker, Robin Davies (Director, Data Operations, Global Data Insights & Analytics at Ford Motor Company) closed her talk with the sentiment that in the analytics sphere “change is constant”  and that the “need to learn is more important than ever.”  This can feel scary or intimidating, but is also really exciting! As a personal note, I love to work with students on getting “comfortable with uncertainty.”
    • Start small, and build up to complexity (panel discussion with Wei Xu, Abiah Loethen, and Joy Kenyon). Although this discussion was with respect to learning new AI technology, it applies to any new skill or concept in data analytics, or beyond. Be OK with your learning taking some time, and embrace the process.
    • A common challenge is that “sometimes we [businesses] don’t know the right questions to ask” (career Panel with Alisa Noll, Kristen Stovell, Stacia Edwards, and Jen Seale). A thoughtful data analyst has the skills and the curiosity to figure out what the “real” question is. In my experience finding the “real” question is a challenge and a skill for any data analyst, whether you’re in business, research, or another application!
    • There is no “purple unicorn” that can do it all (Kelly Denney) – the best data analysts can speak knowledgeably in multiple areas, but work effectively in teams to reach beyond what a single person could do alone
    • Data Analytics is not just for people who see themselves as “computer geeks”!
        • Do you want to get those answers in front of a leader? To make better decisions? To help drive change?
        • Do you like working with others together to find creative solutions? To do new things?
        • A liberal arts background is great for data analytics!

I’m so inspired by the last point, which was discussed during the career panel, and in many one-on-one conversations I had with career data analysts. And it’s one of the reasons I really believe in this program, and in so many of the great communities rising up around data analytics. So many people at the conference came to data analytics later in their educational journey, or in their careers, or did not come from traditional computer science or statistics backgrounds. Here at Denison, we can bring together students from broad backgrounds and interest areas, but with a common interest and curiosity for problem solving and making the world a better place. Let’s see how we grow in the coming years!