A group photo of attendees at a workshop organized by the Society of Women in Statistics at UCLA

2nd Distinguished Women in Statistics and Data Science Workshop: Shining a Light on Women in Industry

Speaking to the growing importance of statistics and data science in today’s world, participants from diverse academic programs across UCLA joined the event

Organized by the Society of Women in Statistics (SWS) at UCLA, the 2nd Distinguished Women in Statistics and Data Science Workshop took place on October 17, 2023. This event brought together a diverse group of over 80 registered participants, comprising Ph.D. students, Master’s students, undergraduates, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty members from across the university.

Speaking to the importance of statistics and data science in today’s world, participants from diverse academic programs joined the event.  In addition to the department of Statistics and Data Science, these included Mathematics, Biostatistics, Computer Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering as well as attendees from Psychology, Political Science, Communications, and Linguistics. Highlighting the growth and importance of this new workshop, several representatives from the industrial partners of the Master in Applied Statistics program also attended.

“With the age of big data, data science is incredibly useful for social sciences because it opens a new avenue to understand our world, which leads to new discoveries. Through this workshop, I learned how women’s leadership has contributed to this field and become an inspiration for future generations,” said Nanum Jeon, a PhD student in the department of Sociology.

While the previous workshop in May 2023 centered on the experiences of women in academia, the second workshop focused on panelists in the industrial landscape. 

These included Shanthi Gudavalli: head of Strategic Execution, Payments – Trust and Safety at JP Morgan Chase. Dr. Vivian Hecht:  bioinformatics data scientist (B.S., UCLA,  Biological engineering). Jean Ji: head of the Global Partner Engineering at Google Cloud (B.S., UCLA, Electrical and computer engineering) . Dr. Sydney Kahmann: senior data scientist at Mozilla (Ph.D., UCLA, Statistics). Dr. Luyao Xu: senior software engineering at Google (Ph.D., UCLA Electrical and computer engineering). 

Panelists from industry answer students’ questions at the growing event (PHOTO CREDIT: Chie Ryu)

“The event was so much fun! I was incredibly inspired by the students, their thoughtful questions, and their strong desire to succeed in their career. I think the future of women in this field is brighter than ever,” said Ji. 

Moderated by 5th year Statistics and Data Science PhD Student Jiayi Li, panelists addressed queries across three main categories:

Data Science Industry Insights

Panelists shared how the data science industry and job market has evolved in the past decade and explored the implications of widespread use of new and impactful tools in the industry. They also explored the implications of the widespread use of LLM which revolutionized the industry by making it possible for computers to understand, generate, and interact using human language with unprecedented accuracy and fluency. Strategies were also discussed for individuals with backgrounds in statistics or more theory-oriented fields to distinguish themselves in this competitive industry.

Career Guidance

The panelists shared with attendees their personal career trajectories and provided details about their roles and the paths that had led them to their current positions.

They offered valuable advice to aspiring junior data scientists, assisting them in navigating and planning their careers effectively.

This event was so professional, organized, fun, and informative. I gained so much from the panelists,” said Brooke Hollister. “Because of these efforts, all these female grad students are more prepared and can be more successful in their future.”

Tackling Gender Bias

Acknowledging the gender disparity in the data science industry, the discussion focused on how women and minorities can maintain professionalism in male-dominated workplaces. Specific insights were provided by the panelists on how to break the glass ceiling for underrepresented groups in the workplace.

We had incredible panelists who are sophisticated, experienced, open-minded, easy-going, sincere, kind, and willing to share. I can’t say enough how grateful we are for them to come to our event, and how much I learned from them,” said event organizer Jiayi Li. “We really appreciate our panelists’ dedication to education and empowering women in general. We also received a lot of support from the faculty members in the Department of Statistics and Data Science and our administrative staff members, without whom this event cannot be possible.”

Li plans to continue this event into next year and expects another panel to be organized in Spring of 2024. She thanked her co-organizers Tanvi Shankre, Stella Huang, Stephanie Lu from the Statistics Department. Tanvi and Stella are both 4th year Ph.D. students in the Department of Statistics. Stephanie Lu is a first-year MASDS student in the Department of Statistics. We also received warmest support from our faculty members Prof. Hongquan Xu, Prof. Mark Handcock, Prof. Jessica Li, and Prof. Qing Zhou, Prof. George Michailidis and our department staff Kyle Chang, Chie Ryu, Verghese Nallengara. The event would not have been possible without everyone’s joint effort.