MDS Spotlight: Meet Ayla Pearson, MDS Vancouver, Class of 2019

As a resource clerk based on Haida Gwaii with the forestry branch of the Province of British Columbia, Ayla Pearson is a Jack of all trades doing everything from issuing permits for forestry companies to administration assistance for First Nations consultation to front end reception to hardware tech support. It was while doing all of those tasks that Pearson noticed how disorganized was its data integrity.

“That’s when I started realizing what I wanted to do with the data with that job,” said Pearson.

Even though her interest in data was piqued as a resource clerk, Pearson initially wanted to pursue a master’s in biology.  

Pearson spent months looking for the perfect master’s biology program but nothing felt quite right. It was a conversation with her mom that pointed her into the direction of data science.

“I was complaining to [my mom], ‘Oh mom, I am searching for so long and nothing is right and you know most biologists are so excited about going out in the field [but] they hate all the data work. I wish I could kind of skip the field work and just be able to analyze all the data after the biologists collects everything’ and she was like well like why can't you,” she said.

This light bulb moment led Pearson to start researching online data programs. Her search ultimately led her to UBC’s Master of Data Science (MDS) program. Pearson noted that the MDS program offered everything that she wanted to do with data.

“I wanted to be able to use already collected data to create solutions, to try and get new information out of it, which is everything that I was trying to do in my work already but didn't really have the skills to do it or the confidence,” she added. “The work I'd done in data at that point felt like my own opinion and not really any backing in any kind of formal training or education.”

One of the things that attracted Pearson to the MDS program was its 10-month timeline, its professional approach and that it was close to home.

Even though Pearson took some online coding classes prior to starting the MDS program, she knew that she wanted an in-person program.

“My mom did a home-based master’s and she really struggled because of the lack of support so I knew that having a peer group and being able to actually go talk to my teachers would make a huge difference,” she explained.

Pearson enjoyed the fast-paced environment of the MDS program and the small classes allowed her to engage with other students and faculty on a one-to-one basis, which she found very valuable.

Luckily, Pearson was able to take a year off of her job and even though she will be returning to her current role, the MDS program has given her a better understanding of data organization and how to do better visualizations which will help her eventually transition to a data science role within her organization.

Ayla’s Top 3 Tips on Succeeding in the MDS Program:

  1. Drink lots of water and good food. “It is a busy program so you got to find some way to balance yourself out.”
  2. Make good friends. “The program is so fast paced you really need that support. You can only learn so much in class so being able to talk to friends and make those good relationships. I learned so much from working with people late in the evening together."
  3. Go to office hours. “Even if I didn't need help on a specific question, there is always really great discussions where we've discussed things even deeper than it was taken in class. So I found going to office hours really valuable.”

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