Where you can find her: https://twitter.com/Kay_the_Savage
- Undergraduate: University of Michigan; Engineering 2011
- Graduate: Harvard Extension School; Data Science 2023
Current Job Title: Data Scientist at Spotify
What experience first got you interested in science and is that field the same one you went on to pursue?
My earliest memories of being interested in STEM came when I was very young: my parents (who are both engineers) used to let my brother and sister and I take a part old appliances, such as our VCR. We weren’t that great at putting things back together, but we all liked seeing the inside guts of how these machines we used every day worked. It was interesting to see how technology and science – these abstract things we were learning about in school – applied to our everyday lives.
Fast forward to college: one of the main reasons I pursued an education in STEM is that the mentors I looked up to told me “no matter what your actual concentration is, you can do anything with an engineering degree.” That sounded great to me, as I didn’t know what my career could look like 10 years out. Now, seeing the breadth of what each of my family members do really confirms that for me: my 4 family members all studied STEM and now work in fields ranging from construction to cybersecurity. STEM can apply to almost any aspect of life.
In the end, studying STEM (engineering specifically) taught me how to be inquisitive, analytical, and creative. I now work in a field – data science – that one could argue was not coined with a name until I was in middle school. I work for a company – Spotify – that wasn’t founded until I was in high school. Studying a STEM program is what has helped me be prepared for a career in the “future.”
So, in terms of my career path, STEM gave me the tools, to apply what I enjoyed studying – statistics – to my passion – music. After years working for record labels and music television stations, I was finally able to marry the two at Spotify.
Tell me about some people who helped or inspired you along the way, in your early training and later in your career.
It is imperative to have a relatable person in your support system. To that end, I am grateful for my older sister, Trish, who paved the way as an engineer from the University of Michigan as well. Whether I needed a pick-me-up phone call at 2am about how hard college classes were, or help figuring out negotiation tactics for a new job, she was always one step ahead of me with notes on how to thrive as a female in STEM. I know I am beyond fortunate to have someone so close to me as a role model, and that not everyone is as fortunate.
Otherwise, the best mentors I’ve had have come from relationships that evolved naturally. For example, I had a manager who eventually got promoted to a different team. We still maintained contact, and I asked if they would be interested in being my mentor. Talking to him came easy from our prior relationship, and they were very well-versed in my day to day work as well as my short-term goals. They were a natural fit to understand how to be in my corner to help shape my career.
Can you tell me about any moments of doubt you had as a student or early in your career and how you dealt with it?
In studying STEM, I had many doubts; engineering is not an easy field. In problem sets, there are right answers, there are wrong answers, and on parts of my homeworks, there were no answers. However, I stuck with it. I had a support system including my Freshman year roommate who is also an engineer, my older sister, a large group of inspiring comrades from the Society of Women engineers. For difficult classes, I went to office hours, got extra help, and always put one foot in front of the other. It’s easy to dwell on the past, to assume that doing poorly in one class will translate to doing poorly in others, but it doesn’t have to. I have always believed in putting in the work, not giving up on subjects I enjoyed studying, and moving on to revise studying strategies for future harder classes.
Many years later I moved on to my dream job, where I currently work as a data scientist at Spotify. I had my undergraduate degree, years of work experience, and I was excited to show what I could bring to the table. However, I was immediately overwhelmed by how fast my new coworkers could crank out data and reports, and how seamlessly they used the many internal tools. I began to doubt myself and wondered if I was even the right person for this job. It was after the first couple of weeks that I sat through a presentation on “imposter syndrome.” Imposter syndrome, according to the Harvard Business Review, “can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.” I had put so much pressure on myself in the first week to be at the same level as someone who had been at the company for years. When I didn’t immediately know all the ins and outs of how they were troubleshooting problems, I felt like a failure and at the same time was so impressed and nervous by how quickly everyone else could solved problems. Apparently though, this happens to many people in new roles at new companies, and I’m fortunate enough that my company felt the need to call it out and to let the new hires know it was alright to take time learning. It’s definitely a lesson that has stuck with me. Don’t let the doubt creep in; I know now that I was hired for a reason – for good reasons – and have a lot to offer.
Can you share two or three surprising twists or turns in your early scientific training and your later career path.
It has been a long journey to get to where I am now, but I’ve always been driven and determined. I first interned for an oil refinery as a chemical engineer. I wasn’t passionate enough about the work though, and decided to look for my next move. I next applied for an internship with a record label; I love music and being creative, so I thought this would be a great fit. I applied to my dream internship – and I didn’t get it! Instead of giving up though. I reapplied after making progress on recommendations the record label gave when they turned me down the first time. Second time around, I was hired for the fall.
I realized during this time though that although I loved many of the creative aspects of working for a record label. I wasn’t ready to ignore the engineering that I had been studying all my life. So I worked hard to figure out how to combine the two. As such, I ended up now as a data scientist at Spotify.
Can you give some examples of how you have incorporated your non scientific interests into your work.
I love statistics, coding, and computers… but I also love Fall Out Boy.
Data Science is a career field that can be applied to almost anything. Sports channels are hiring for data scientists; cardiology hospitals are hiring for data scientists; food and beverage companies are hiring data scientists. For me, this is a field that has let me take what I love: statistics and coding, to my passion: music and podcasts. Data Science really does let you incorporate many other interests into your work.
Is there some advice you could share from your own experience to help someone with a science degree who is just starting off on their own career path.
Studying and pursuing STEM careers is not always easy, but again, you really can do almost any career path with a strong foundation in math and science.
People in STEM are who are transforming our society. People in STEM are who are using the new abundance of data to learn at the fastest rates with newfound accuracy. Studying STEM can be lucrative as well as provide social good; it is worth it, to continue on in STEM endeavors.