AI News, Week 2: Why Doing Data Science in Non Profits is Different from Industry

Week 2: Why Doing Data Science in Non Profits is Different from Industry

7 April 2016 - Finland The sun slowly crept behind my head, its morning rays prickling my neck.

We were surrounded on all sides by clumps of tall and skinny trees that tapered off sharply, appearing as bundles of upright green needles.

I just wanted to shoot you a note that, unfortunately, after some introspection, I decided that going back to school wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do this year.

also plan on continuing honing my skills in service of making a difference in parts of the world that I care about, education included, so I sincerely hope that our paths may cross again.

Rereading this email was the final regret-tinged look at the choice I didn’t make, as if by poring over each word in my email I could peer into the hazy Multiverse of Could-Have-Beens, hoping to catch a glimpse at other futures I might have had.

was rereading my email to grapple with the question I guess many people spend much of their lives untangling: did I make the right choice?

Over the years the department graduated a number of notable alumni who now held significant roles within academia and industry.

remember sitting home one day in March, trying to wrap my head around the doubt I was beginning to have around my decision to enroll in graduate school.

That environment, combined with the unquestioned belief that more education and credentials are a “safe” or “correct” choice, gave me career myopia.

Through DSSG I worked as a data scientist in Chicago, where I collaborated with nonprofits and school districts to use my background in statistics and computer science to solve organizational challenges.

In this role, I noticed how valuable my technical background was to the social sector as there was a dearth of technical professionals applying to work with nonprofits or governments.

The burden of proof had sneakily crept from a positive one to a negative one: from “Why should I go to graduate school?” to “Why shouldn’t I?” From that point on, I was on a one-track mind of getting accepted to graduate school, focusing my attention on how to optimize getting accepted, rather than understanding what I wanted out of my life or career.

The initial euphoria I experienced couldn’t conceal the cracks between me and Carnegie Mellon: I didn’t think I wanted to continue working as a data scientist, I didn’t know what I’d use my degree towards, I hadn’t explored other career options to learn if getting a graduate degree was necessary or valuable.

After confronting an uncomfortable truth — that the career she and her parents had spent years preparing for wasn’t what she wanted — Cindy turned down Harvard with no other opportunities in hand.[1] Her decision to trust herself and plunge into uncertainty emboldened me to take my own leap of faith.

The entrance to Metsokangas Comprehensive School As practicing statisticians and data scientists, we thought of no better way to decide this than to run a large-scale experiment.

Finnish students consistently scored near the top of international exams, and teaching was regularly seen as a highly desirable profession for ambitious Finns to pursue.

But it was really simply an internship I had taken when I was still convinced that I was going to need a summer internship to bridge my Fellowship and starting graduate school in the fall.

Her critical, and oftentimes controversial, stances on the modern wave of education reform was something I loosely remembered encountering in a few college courses.

He replied that after leaving his job, he’d become increasingly interested in deepening his knowledge of the US K-12 education system.

The fact that we were also both diehard NBA fans didn’t hurt.[2] (A few years ago I wrote an article that explained how I ended up becoming inspired to work in education.

You can read it here.) But that day in Oakland, over a meal involving copious amounts of spicy glazed pork belly, we found ourselves again discussing the same issues and interests that had brought us together the first time we met.

Instead, Andrew spent time rigorously researching different areas that seemed to hold potential for social impact — criminal justice policies, campaign finance reform, global warming, to name a few — and tried to evaluated which field he could make the most difference in.

She quit her job and spent 6 months reading textbooks, taking online courses and building projects to learn the skills required to become a data scientist.

Her story received a wide amount of attention, especially after she successfully eventually landed a job as a data scientist.

After Microsoft named the school a “Showcase School”, a recognition given to schools that are “intentionally redesign[ing] learning spaces … [and] driv[ing] personalized learning”, Kalle found hordes of admiring visitors from around the world beating on his doors.

When Aatash asked why so many students were working outside of a classroom, Kalle explained to us the school’s philosophy of encouraging students to work in comfortable areas and positions, rather than boxing them within orderly classrooms.

As we walked through the facilities, Aatash and I noticed that nearly all the classrooms could be connected, simply by folding in the collapsable wall partitioning two rooms.

Students learn about nutrition, budgeting, cooking and many other topics that we think you need to know.” As we left the classroom I marveled at the trust these students received — imagine the uproar if a group of American 7th graders were using sharp knives as part of a course — as well as practical curriculum of the Finnish system.

Finland’s education system is commonly lauded in education circles as, within the span of 50 years, it leapt to become one of the highest-performing national systems in the world.

For example, we recently submitted a proposal for a project-based learning high school to a national competition, and we’ll also be putting online a “Master’s thesis” that synthesizes what we’ve done and learned.

The future is still hazy and blotted with unanswered questions, but I can’t help feel that I made the right choice in creating my own path rather than attending Carnegie Mellon.

By pursuing an independently created curriculum rather than entering a formal graduate program, I’ve found myself more comfortable with uncertainty with each passing day.

My past jobs as a data scientist and project manager paid well and were high-status professions, but I felt uneasy with them both because I didn’t identify strongly as a “data scientist” nor “project manager.” Pursuing another technical graduate degree that would have been taking another step down a professional path in technology.


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