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Held at the Gleacher Center on February 22, the 2024 Data Science and Analytics Career Fair offered over 400 University of Chicago graduate students and postdocs an opportunity to survey the job landscape and make lasting impressions on twenty-one potential future employers. With its focus on quantitative and computational disciplines, the event, which was hosted by UChicagoGRAD and the MS in Applied Data Science program, brought attendees together from a broad range of University degree programs, all eager to better understand the role of data science across industries and see which companies might be leading the way.

“Career fairs featuring a wide variety of companies are essential ways for graduate students and postdocs to get a sense for all the options they have,” said Greg Green, Director of the MS in Applied Data Science program. “They’re also a great venue for honing in-person skills and getting insights into different corporate cultures and the nuances the quantitative and computational disciplines have across different sectors. Given the caliber of the graduate students and postdocs at UChicago, it’s clearly a winning proposition for the employers who attend as well.”

A student talks to a company at the Data Science and Analytics Career Fair.

At a time when so much learning and interaction takes place online, many of the graduate students and postdocs present were eager to take advantage of the unique opportunities offered by the in-person event. Whether that meant getting a better sense for a company’s values and work environment or learning about their latest projects, there was broad agreement that significant new perspectives were to be gained by engaging the companies present.

Benjamin Russo, who will graduate from the MS in Applied Data Science program in December, was excited to see the pharmaceutical company Astellas present. “It’s really cool to see my background and my program connect like this,” he said.

“I’m asking what positions they have available and what skills I should develop to be successful in those positions. It’s reassuring to hear that the program is teaching me what these companies are asking for.”

Russo also took advantage of the in-person encounter to showcase a side of himself that’s harder to convey in a virtual world. “I am definitely a better speaker in person than I am on Zoom, so it’s really nice to be able to talk to people and make jokes and actually see people laugh instead of the awkward Zoom stare.”

Like Russo, many saw the event as an opportunity to network and start conversations that might continue in the years to come. Vibhuti Bhatt, who will graduate from Public Policy at Harris this May, was excited to see the research and data consultancy Mathematica in attendance, but the long line at their table gave her the opportunity to connect with some of the other companies first.

“This is my first career fair,” she said. “I’ve been speaking with friends and classmates who got internships through networking and everyone tells me that networking is the way to go. It’s much more effective than shooting off applications in the dark.”

Often the difference between networking and angling for an inside scoop on a recently posted job or internship came down to timelines. Harsh Pachisia, who will graduate from the Computational Analysis and Public Policy program in June, arrived with a list of companies he wanted to connect with and also some specific questions he was hoping to have answered.

“It’s easy to get all the basic information about a company online, but there are other things you’ll probably only get answered in person,” said Pachisia. “One thing that people struggle with has to do with timelines. You might apply for a position and then get rejected simply because you’re not graduating in a month and the company needs someone to start immediately. Just getting a better handle on a company’s hiring timelines can clarify things and save time moving forward.”

University of Chicago students talk to a company at the Data Science and Analytics Career FairOne important perspective that the 2024 Data Science and Analytics Career Fair offered was an expansive view onto the variety of industries quantitative and computational disciplines impact today. From financial services firms like Morningstar and Alliant Credit Union to beauty store chain Ulta Beauty and even the United States Marine Corps, there’s hardly an area of the professional world today not leveraging the skill sets in which those present had gained their expertise.

Maddie Healy, who will graduate in June with her Master of Arts in Digital Studies of Language, Culture, and History, had her eyes on several specific employers and was eager to learn about their latest projects and plans.

“I was so excited to see NORC and other companies here and get the chance to speak with them and learn about their mission in person,” she said. “I think it’s more authentic that way. I was also learning about different tracks related to job postings that aren’t typically available online and which you might only get exposed to later on in the interview process.”

For those who might have specific areas of interest, the event was an opportunity to gather some deeper intelligence on the companies present. Olesia Khrapunova, in her last quarter of the Master Program in Computer Science, arrived prepared to quiz a number of companies on the types of full-time roles they had available.

“One thing that I really want to know is the nature of data science work they do,” she said. “Lots of companies say data science, but that can mean a lot of different things. More than a statistics-based approach, I’m interested in machine learning and natural language processing and I want to find companies actually doing that.”

For the 400-plus graduate students and postdocs in attendance at the 2024 Data Science and Analytics Career Fair, this was a consistently important point. Equipped with the most advanced data science skill sets being used today and passionate about their potential for positive change, finding the right jumping-off point for their careers meant connecting with a company and an industry open to the latest techniques and approaches.

Applied Data Science student Vincent Feng boiled his analysis down to two key components. “I think the first core question is how data science is being applied in the particular industry,” he said. “From there, it’s a matter of understanding how mature the company is when it comes to adopting the cutting edge.”