Carnegie Mellon University
March 30, 2020

Finance Panel Kicks Off WiDS Virtual Conference

By Ann Lyon Ritchie

The Women in Data Science (WiDS) Conference takes place annually at satellite locations around the world and, despite coronavirus, 2020 was no exception. More than 100 participants connected virtually for the opening talk of WiDS Pittsburgh@CMU on March 20.

The Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Statistics & Data Science hosted the conference in partnership with CMU’s Master of Science in Computational Finance (MSCF) program and Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy. The presenting sponsor of the conference was General Motors.

One prominent panel discussion, “Data Science in Finance," included speakers Sameena Shah, managing director of artificial intelligence (AI) research at JPMorgan Chase & Co., Jennika Gold, head of fixed income data and analytics at Morningstar, Inc. and Ren Zhang, chief data scientist at BMO Financial Group. 

“[At Morningstar] we need to turn massive amounts of data into actionable insights for the investment community. The work I do now relies heavily on the skills I learned in MSCF at Carnegie Mellon and leverages a lot of computer science,” Gold said.

Data scientists need strong technical skills for data analysis, programming and the ability to acquire new skills, such as acquiring a new programming language. By leveraging their expertise, data scientists can creatively mine data and discover new informative connections between data sets that seem disparate.

Shah also underscored the importance of soft skills for data scientists, such as collaboration, resourcefulness and the abilities to negotiate and to influence people. 

“As an individual contributor, you might be able to get away with working by yourself or just a few people, but the higher up the corporate ladder you go, the more you need to exhibit leadership,” Shah said.

Looking ahead, the panelists identified applications to trading, deep reinforcement learning, ethics and privacy as areas of growing interest in the finance industry.

Zhang described varying readiness for AI. While embraced by some companies, others face challenges acquiring and analyzing the data.

"So, it is a really an important time in the data science field," Zhang said. "How do you turn your knowledge into company impact?"  

Rebecca Nugent, the Stephen E. and Joyce Fienberg Professor of Statistics & Data Science and associate department head of CMU’s Statistics & Data Science department, moderated the panel. Kayla Frisoli, a Ph.D. student in Statistics and Data Science, co-moderated the corresponding chat component of the virtual panel. Nugent and Frisoli were on the executive program committee with CMU doctoral students Mikaela Meyer, Xiaoyi Yang and Maria Jahja.

The conference organizers mobilized quickly to adapt to video-conferencing format in response to regulations in place to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

“The 2020 virtual version of WiDS Pittsburgh@CMU was a big success with over 200 people signed up across the two days of panels, engaging with entrepreneurs and academics working in data science-related fields,” said Nugent. “We’re already looking forward to WiDS Pittsburgh@CMU 2021."

“Data Science in Finance” also discussed the gender gap, potential effects of COVID-19 on the industry and future opportunities in entrepreneurship and innovation.