Carnegie Mellon University

Women in Data Science Panel

On March 10, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) hosted its annual Women in Data Science (WiDS) Pittsburgh @CMU conference to inspire and educate data scientists worldwide, regardless of gender, and support women in the field. From technical talks to fireside chats, this year’s virtual conference featured data science leaders from a variety of industries.

WiDS is an international conference located in Stanford, California with more than 150 satellite conferences around the world. The conference profiles women speakers from academia and industry. WiDS Pittsburgh @CMU started in 2018 with nearly 150 local participants, and this year, saw more than 400 participants register for the three-day event.

“If data science were a country, Pittsburgh would be the capital,” said Rebecca Nugent, professor of statistics and data science at CMU and moderator of the sessions. “The response to this year’s virtual networking events shows how strong this community is.”

One panel co-sponsored by the Master of Science in Computational Finance (MSCF) program, “Data Science in Finance”, featured Jennika Gold Thomas (MSCF ’02), Global Head of Data at Morningstar; Anisha Krishnan (MSCF ‘11), Head of Portfolio Analytics & Modeling, Corporate & Investment Banking - Portfolio Management Americas at BNP Paribas; and Eleanor Drew, Global Head of Information Services Group & Institutional Clients Group at Citigroup.

Gold Thomas, Krishnan and Drew filled the hour sharing personal experiences, offering professional advice and predicting future trends in the industry. The data scientists addressed knowledge gaps in the interview process, desirable skillsets for prospective candidates, essential non-technical skills required to be successful in the field, general career advice, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts at their firms and trends they are most excited about for the future.

Throughout the conversation, Krishnan and Gold Thomas reflected on how the MSCF program prepared them for their current positions. Krishnan, who oversees Balance sheet and Capital monitoring for Global Banking Americas at BNP Paribas, noted the importance of balancing technical skills with communication skills and knowledge of the markets – encouraging candidates to read smart briefs. Gold Thomas, who leads the entire data organization of more than 1,500 associates globally at Morningstar, shared that in addition to the technical skillsets, candidates must show creativity, innovation and passion about their work – something that took her some time to find in her own career, after translating technical skills into intuition.

“Passion really translates,” said Gold Thomas. “Mine didn't begin with data science, but I found my way here through my passion for mathematics. Take an honest evaluation of the skillsets you bring and seek creative ways to explore them in new roles and industries.”

All three women acknowledged the efforts firms are taking to recruit more diverse talent and the work that still needs to be done. Krishnan shared how it is common for most banks to have a diversity key performance indicator, which can range from requiring a certain number of diverse candidates be interviewed for a particular position to DEI policies enforced by human resource teams. 

“Diversity is something the entire industry is now looking to address,” said Krishnan.