Graduate Student Meeting With Alumni: Informal And Immensely Valuable!

Ben Risk (left) and Ark Fang (center) speak with students at a Graduate Student Network meetup.

November 19, 2020

   by Glenn Johnson

I had the pleasure of being invited to attend one of the first events of the NISS Affiliates Graduate Student Network.  It was great!  It featured two individuals who at recently graduated from Ph.D. programs and are now working in a professional world where keen interests in data is paramount.  I was not the only person attending.  Graduate students from different NISS Affiliate departments joined in and got a chance to ask all kinds of questions about how these two individuals got to where they are today.

Ark Fang has been a Data Scientist at Google for 6 months.  Before that he was earning his Ph.D. in Biostatistics at the University of Pittsburgh and before that a M.S. degree in Industrial Engineering, also at Pitt.  Ben Risk is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics at Emory University.  Before that he was a postdoc at SAMSI, did a variety of work in topics ranging from the ecology and evolution of birds to economic litigation consulting.  He received his M.S. and Ph.D. in Statistics at Cornell.  Regardless of these lines on their respective CV’s it was clear from their comments that the experience of looking for, interviewing, selecting and then actually beginning their present positions are memories that are quite new.  Therefore, it made sense that ‘on the job market’ types of questions is where the conversation focused.

Here are a sample of the questions asked:

“Industry or academia?  When do you decide?”
“Day to day, what does your job look like?”
“Did you do anything special during your postdoc that helped you get a job later?”
“What are the skills or knowledge or experience that you didn’t learn in your Ph.D. program but are important in your work now?”
“Your job talk.  How did you structure it?”

There was no published program or agenda.  It was just about 25-30 folks in a Zoom room having a conversation.  Sure, it was moderated, but the moderators asked questions too!  And, my favorite, it was informal – which made it fun!  Did I just say that I had fun in a Zoom meeting?! (And I have been in quite a few Zoom meetings lately!) 

For future activities, this group is planning on a Social Hour on December 18th (more details will be available on the Graduate Student Network website) and also they are in the process of scheduling another Meeting with the Alumni event coming up in January!

Department Heads of NISS Affiliate institutions.  If your students don’t know about this network, they should!  Graduate students – spread the word!  My guess is the more folks you have involved the wider variety of topics, activities and possible networking opportunities become possible.  I know that if I run into either Ark or Ben at the next JSM I attend, you bet I am going to introduce myself!

Friday, November 20, 2020 by Glenn Johnson