Why I Want to Be a Data Scientist and Why I Chose Notre Dame

Author: Ashley Klesmit

Group picture of Data Science students at Orientation in 2019 on Notre Dame's campus.

Data is created every second of the day. You’re creating data while you’re sleeping, while you’re driving to work, even while you’re eating.

In fact, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every single day.

Data is everywhere, but how can we manage, analyze, and use data to make decisions?

That’s where data science comes in.

What Excites me About Data Science

I became interested in Data science after reading Rick Smolan’s book, The Human Face of Big Data. It opened my eyes to the endless possibilities of Big Data and the realization that data scientists face a daunting task of determining how to make the vast amounts of data useful for humanity. We don’t know what we don’t know – uncovering actionable insights from data is what really excites me.

Another thing that inspires me about the field of data science is it transcends every industry and touches every person in the world. Data science can be used to predict crime, to deliver targeted ads to customers, or even to predict cancer cells. The possibilities are infinite.

The Benefits of Learning Alongside my AT&T Colleagues

When I heard that AT&T was collaborating with Notre Dame to create an online master’s degree in Data science, I was immediately interested.

AT&T has made a plan to retrain its entire workforce with the skills for the future. If my long-term employer AT&T was going to sponsor a master’s program with a prestigious university like Notre Dame, I knew that it would be an impactful program that would benefit my career and set me apart from others.

This program is comprised of people from different fields and companies, but there are also many students from AT&T. Having fellow AT&T employees going through the program has helped to create connections throughout the entire company. We even created a chat room at work so that we can collaborate whenever we need to.

Although I’m a web developer, I’m located in the HR business unit at AT&T. Having classmates and peers who are in different business units has helped to create a fuller picture of the company and the data science field at AT&T.

What I Like About the Learner Experience

The thing that has surprised me the most about this program is the fact that I don’t feel like I’m isolated, even though it is an online program.

In the beginning, I was not sure how it would work, but it is extremely collaborative. We meet twice a week via a videoconference, and the rest of the work is asynchronous material (videos, reading, etc.) that we watch on our own.

Since I have a busy, full-time job at AT&T, I was quite nervous about taking on such a huge commitment. However, this program has exceeded my expectations, and I’m excited to see how my career changes after completing this master’s degree.

Having the ability to earn a master’s degree from Notre Dame while working in Dallas is the perfect combination. The courses have been challenging, but that is to be expected from a master’s program.

The Immersions Make a Big Difference

So far, my favorite part of the program has been the in-person Immersions.

Before the program began last August, we all met at the Notre Dame campus in South Bend, IN for a weekend. Meeting the people that I would spend the next 21 months with in person was incredibly beneficial and has made the collaboration and camaraderie unlike anything I imagined.

In addition to the first Immersion, there are optional Immersions twice a year where we all meet in person, listen to speakers, and participate in group activities. The Immersions definitely set the Notre Dame program apart from other online programs that I have seen.

Data science students at an Immersion.

Real-World Insights from Industry Leaders and Partners

At our Immersion at the Notre Dame California campus in Palo Alto, we heard from Kathryn O’Donnell, Director of Data Science at Capital One. Kathryn spoke about how her team uses data science to track and stop money laundering.

Her team uses data science tools to track various bank accounts and users and identify how they are connected to other accounts and users. They can then track patterns with their algorithms that can predict if an account is likely to be laundering money.

It was intriguing to see visualizations from Capital One that were created using tools that we learned about during our first semester in the program.

We also listened to a panel of data scientists and engineers from various companies speak about their jobs. I found Laura Godlewski, a Data Scientist at Facebook, particularly interesting.

When I think of data science, I typically think of using analytics to drive business results, but Laura’s job focuses more on the human aspect of sharing memories with Facebook users.

Laura owns the “On This Day” feature on Facebook. She spoke about some of the algorithms that go into this tool and how well it has been received by Facebook users. The tool uses analytics to determine what photos a user would find interesting based on who you converse with the most on Facebook, what has the most likes, etc. Although the tool may seem simple, there is a great deal of science and analytics that go into it.

The human aspect is what attracted me to the data science field initially, so I found her presentation very engaging.

Data Science Faculty Value Student Feedback

One aspect that has really impressed me with the program is the faculty’s willingness for feedback and their transparency about the program. They value our feedback and want to improve future semesters.

Feedback is a gift, and the data science program faculty and staff seem to truly believe that.

A Master’s Data Science Program Like No Other

For those of you who may be considering a master’s degree in data science, I highly suggest looking into this program.

I know that the time commitment can seem daunting, but it is a commitment that will benefit you for the rest of your life.

The bond that you form with the faculty and students cannot be measured. This program provides the flexibility to have your own schedule, the ability to form meaningful relationships, and the tools to accelerate your future career in the field of data science.

Want to hear what other students are saying about Notre Dame Data Science?

Watch this student-led information session or read another student blog on the program experience.