MDS Spotlight: Meet Heather Van Tassel, MDS Vancouver, Class of 2019

As Heather Van Tassel was completing her biochemistry and neuroscience degree at the University of British Columbia, she took a biostatistics course which became her doorway into data science.

"What I appreciate the most about data science and what drove me to return to school is that having an analytical skill set will allow me to think more critically at work, which is both challenging and rewarding,” said Van Tassel.

A UBC Master of Data Science (MDS) alumna and one of her UBC professors encouraged Van Tassel to take the MDS program.

Once she heard about the MDS program, Van Tassel did what any good scientist would do and researched other data science programs as well as online options. Van Tassel immediately knew she didn’t want to go the online route.

“You can learn data science online but if you don't have the motivation to sit down and actually teach yourself, you're never going to learn as much as doing a program with deadlines and peer support and teacher support that you wouldn't get on your own in a coffee shop,” she explained.

After all her research, Van Tassel returned to the MDS program and applied.

“What appealed to me the most about the MDS program is that it was very inclusive in terms of accepting people from all backgrounds who don't necessarily have a strong basis in computer science and coding, which is where I saw a lot of potential for myself to gain skills through the program.”

Van Tassel appreciated being taught by the caliber of the MDS teaching staff. “The years of knowledge and expertise that the MDS teachers have is priceless. Even if I did sit down and try to learn data science, I wouldn't know where to start or what to focus on.”

Also, Van Tassel noted that she has learned almost as much from her peers as she has from the MDS courses.

Even though Van Tassel was at first skeptical about whether the MDS program would be worth the investment, she could not be happier with the knowledge and experience she gained through the program.

Reflecting on her 10-months in the program, Van Tassel said “[MDS] gave me the hands-on skills and knowledge to actually be able to help businesses find value and insights from their data for real-world impact.”

Overall, Van Tassel recommends the UBC MDS program to anyone looking to challenge themselves and help shape their career towards utilizing these exciting, powerful and innovative data science tools.

“I have learned so much in such a short amount of time and am inspired to continue adding diversity to the field as a woman in data science,” she said.

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

  1. Prepare properly. “Take the pre-requisite courses in linear algebra, statistics, calculus and computer science and supplement with any online tutorials that you feel would boost your skills in areas of the program that you might lacking.”
  2. Time management: “Try to start the labs early so you can ask questions during the lab. Outside of school, prioritize sleep, exercise, nutrition, and personal relationships. The pace of the program is so intense that if you don't maintain personal health you might burn out.”
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. “We are here to learn so take advantage of that. Ask questions in class and go to office hours.”

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