Building Foundations for a Data-Driven Future
Vince Miller, a student in the M.S. in Applied Statistics and Data Analytics (MASDA) program graduating this fall, fills us in on his journey to data science, what it’s really like to study in the program, and how data science will continue to shape our world. For more information about Dedman’s MASDA program, including a program overview, requirements, and more from students, visit the MASDA program website.
Tell us a little bit about yourself! Where are you from? What do you like to do for fun? What led you to data science?
I grew up in Ohio and attended The Ohio State University for my undergrad, where I studied chemical engineering. I love adventure, especially outdoors, and initially pursued working in the oil field. I spent time in North Dakota as a field engineer but eventually decided against this route. I moved to Dallas for a process engineering job and worked there for two years before joining the MASDA program. During my first year of the MASDA program, I continued working as a process engineer until I was offered a Data Science internship.
What drew you to the MASDA program? With so many options within the field, what makes SMU’s MASDA program special?
While I was considering what graduate program I wanted to attend, I was able to speak with our advisor Dr. Robertson as well as then-current students. These conversations gave me the confidence that MASDA was exactly what I had been looking for: a top tier education that would allow me to develop applied statistics knowledge while gaining experience using industry standard as far as available technology for data science from insightful professors. In my second year, I have found that the insights given by my professors have been invaluable. The main insight I’ve taken away is that an understanding of applied statistics is the best background to have within this industry.
With so much growth in applied statistics and data analytics, how do you think the MASDA program has prepared you for a quickly changing field?
The current field of applied statistics and data analytics is very broad. The MASDA program has the ability to distinguish candidacy for desirable positions in the field by providing its students with the fundamental applied statistics knowledge that employers acknowledge as difficult to provide current employees. No matter how the data field changes related to how things are done, the MASDA program provides the statistical foundation to stand on.
What do you think is the most exciting part of your field? How do you think the world will continue to be shaped by data and statistics, and what type of role do you hope to play?
The most exciting part of data and statistics is that by leveraging data in ways we have not before we will have the ability to solve some of today’s unsolved challenges. My hope is that while I work in the field I will have the ability to leverage data and create solutions that have a positive impact on the lives of individuals.
How has the MASDA program helped you to better define your future goals and plans?
The MASDA program has provided me an opportunity to more greatly rely on my technical skills for employment. This provides a sense of freedom that is difficult to describe. After my first year in the MASDA program I received a data scientist internship at Capital One. I plan to begin working as a Data Scientist at Capital One after graduation. This is an opportunity I surely would not have received without the MASDA program.
Can you share an experience or two that sums up your time in the program best? Is there a particular member of the faculty, project, or course that you would consider to be a defining moment for you?
The class that I enjoyed the most was Intro to Data Science. A defining moment was when the course began, and I did not expect such a mathematical approach to the subject. I expected the course to be similar to other data science tutorials or certifications I had completed, but after a short period I realized that the professor understood how important a fundamental understanding of statistics was in the field. This course definitely gave me an upper hand when comparing myself to students from other programs.
How have you been shaped outside of the classroom? Are there any special projects or programs that you participated in that set the program apart from others? Any life lessons?
Before I started the MASDA program, I expected that I would learn a new subject and complete a career change. I underestimated the process required to become proficient in this field. The vastness and many nuances of the field can make the challenge to learn enough very intimidating. It is easy to feel as if progress toward the goal is not being made. This could not be further from the truth. Watching myself grow as I complete each assignment within the MASDA program, I’ve realized that the process is working. Most of my defining moments have been small steps with a few setbacks in between. I now have greater confidence when embarking on new challenges that will take years to complete in my personal life as well, such as learning the guitar.
What surprised you most about the MASDA program?
I began the MASDA program while working full-time and would mostly come to campus exclusively when it was required. I did not interact with many classmates. Now, I frequently study on campus, and have developed friendships with many of my classmates. I did not expect this from the MASDA program. I have grown to love SMU.
What was the most exciting or satisfying part of the MASDA program?
The most exciting part of the program has been that I was able to transition from a chemical engineer to a data scientist. The program is filled with very impressive individuals, and during the time spent together, it is obvious that greatness is possible.
What are your plans following graduation?
I plan to do some traveling with friends before I begin my position as a Data Scientist at Capital One.
Advice to other students or potential students?
Do not underestimate the value of a fundamental understanding of statistics that MASDA offers because not all data jobs are created equal. MASDA offers a journey to becoming a data scientist that is extremely rewarding for those interested in developing highly sophisticated data related skills.