A panel of three Duke alumni recently joined the 2020 Data+ cohort to discuss their experiences in the program, the role of data science in their jobs today and the importance of building lasting professional relationships.
Data+ is a 10-week summer program that provides research experiences allowing Duke undergraduates to explore data-driven approaches to interdisciplinary challenges. “We’ve had quite a few students move all the way through Duke and on to some very interesting careers,” said Paul Bendich, who helped create the program in 2015.
The June 17 alumni panel featured:
They each described Data+ as a unique time to take a deep dive into a meaningful project – distinct even among their other experiences at Duke.
“I liked working collaboratively on a long-term project,” said Hirschhorn, who majored in mechanical engineering through the Pratt School of Engineering. “That’s not something I have found in my career – to iterate on something and see it very in-depth and detailed. I wish I had found another similar research project after the summer ended…to work on something really deeply.”
“It feels like you’re always running out of time in college and you’re always crunching,” Vargas-Restrepo said. “But I miss college a lot. You really get the space to think about different things every day. After [Data+], I went into my thesis and got into other things at Duke…but I wish I could have made time expand and been able to keep working on this.”
Panelists made numerous references throughout the discussion to the lasting partnerships created with other students and faculty project leaders. They touted the benefits of being an engineering major paired with a peer studying global health, or working on an environmental biology project as a psychology and visual media studies student, in Vargas-Restrepo’s case.
“You get so many different viewpoints both within your team and about your project,” said Driscoll, who majored in statistics. “It’s really awesome and helpful.”
Relationships also develop through the partnering industry and nonprofit representatives who bring challenging, real-world projects to the Data+ students.
“My mentor at RTI – every time I’m looking for a job – he has become the first person I check in with,” said Hirschhorn.
“All these connections, I’ve carried them forward,” said Vargas-Restrepo, referencing faculty mentors in Math and Psychology & Neuroscience. “They’ve led me to do things that I might never have done.”
Their remarks followed a welcome from Valerie Ashby, dean of the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, who walked the Data+ students through her path to university administration – highlighting the role her mentors played during every phase of her career.
“I figured out that you don’t have to know everything to do the next thing. [My mentors] can see things in me that I can’t see myself. They’re very honest with me about what my strengths and weaknesses are. I speak with at least one of them every couple weeks.”
She advised them to take full advantage of the connections they make through Data+ and other Duke experiences.
“Build your network now, because you’re going to carry it through the rest of your life,” Ashby said. “If you start building that now, there’s no telling what you’ll end up doing. I’m excited about who you are going to become.”