Where are they now? Nicholas Sanders - MDS CL Class of 2020

As soon as Nicholas Sanders took a senior level NLP course during his undergraduate degree, he became hooked on data science and NLP.

“Seeing linguistics applied to computer science and statistics was especially fascinating to me,” said Sanders, who was part of the first cohort of the MDS Computational Linguistics (MDS-CL) program that graduated in 2020. 

Prior to joining the MDS-CL program, Sanders earned a Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics from Western Washington University. After his completing his undergraduate degree, Sanders worked as a field agent at the US Census Bureau while also preparing applications for master degrees in computational linguistics.

Sanders was attracted to the MDS-CL program because of its curriculum and faculty’s backgrounds in diverse, relevant fields. 

“I liked that there was a focus on computational linguistics while still having the opportunity to attend core data science classes that were shared with the main MDS program,” he explained.

After graduation, Sanders went on to work as a data scientist for the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Specifically, Sanders works under the National Institute of General Medical Sciences’ (NIGMS) Division of Data Integration, Modeling, and Analytics (DIMA). DIMA is NIGMS' central nexus for all data-driven discussions, decisions, and actions.

NIGMS supports and funds research that can cover a wide variety of domains that are focused on basic, biological research for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. 

“I actually wasn’t very familiar with the NIH or NIGMS before applying, however the job description was what enticed me to pursue my contracting position; specifically, the focus on NLP oriented work in subdomains that seemed interesting to me,” said Sanders.

Sanders day-to-day involves developing NLP and machine learning models for various tasks. This typically involves a lot of python coding, some SQL queries, and lots of strategizing and data analysis.

Recently, Sanders has also been involved with developing a standard operating procedure for qualitative text analysis evaluation and NLP data set construction. “Essentially, this is mostly focused on testing of existing software tools and strategizing the development of text annotation pipelines.”

What Sanders liked most of his role at the NIH was that it encouraged a lot of experimenting and exploration alongside very practical, implementation-focused work. “It’s also nice that I can usually see the impact and role of NLP and data science at NIGMS and the NIH.”

He added that some of the skills he learned during MDS that he used daily in his role include programming, statistics, data wrangling, SQL, deep learning, and machine learning. In addition, Sanders found skills learned in corpus linguistics and data set development were also very useful for him.

Sanders felt the MDS-CL program prepared him well for his role as a data scientist. 

“I gained a ton of technical skills in programming, machine learning, deep learning, statistics, computational linguistics and NLP,” he said.

After completing his contract with the NIH, Sanders will be pursuing his PhD in NLP at the University of Edinburgh.

“Research in NLP was attractive to me even before starting the MDS-CL program, but I lacked a lot of the technical skills, knowledge, and confidence to start a PhD program right after my undergraduate degree. After completing the MDS-CL program, I felt very eager to dive deeper into NLP and explore new domains, such as speech processing.

Nicholas' job tips for MDS students about to graduate:
•    Create a routine to work on it a little bit every day, because job searching takes tons of refining and time. 
•    Make sure you’re familiar with the position and company that you’re applying to, but most importantly stay determined and patient.

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