Student Profiles

Chao Li

Chao (’23) entered our program having completed a Master of Commerce from the University of Sydney and recently graduated from the DSAN program in May.

Chao’s dedication to innovation, curiosity, and voracious thirst for knowledge are sure to fuel a fascinating and change-making career.

Journey to DSAN

Chao comes from a finance background, and was focused on gaining experience that would augment careers in investment banking or quantitative research. As he began to move through the early stages of his career, he found that data science could help him in his work, e.g. he could use machine learning to build a trading strategy. This realization led him to begin searching for a master’s program in data science.

Our program’s ideal location in DC was one of the guiding factors in Chao choosing the Georgetown Data Science and Analytics Program (DSAN). The opportunity to access excellent social resources and connect with leaders in the field would be undeniable assets to his career and graduate experience. Chao was also drawn to the DSAN program’s focus on data science and not just data analytics, and an enticing course structure with classes like Natural Language Processing and Blockchain made the program a natural fit. Blockchain specifically is integral to Chao’s work, and learning more about it was a necessity. 

The Business of Blockchain

Chao has been doing blockchain-related work since 2019. During that time he learned the basic structure of Bitcoin and began to realize that this would be an important, future-focused technology. It’s an innovation for the financial world, a disruption unprecedented in the modern financial sector. As he dove deeper into Bitcoin he began to find that this area was beginning to attract a lot of innovative, brilliant people who would help this technology grow and make a significant contribution to the world.  He strives to be one of the people who steps into this area in its early stages. He states that “it’s very hard for our students to get into the traditional financial world because it’s very mature and stable.” Chao is an avid self-learner. Before taking the DSAN blockchain course, he used Google and YouTube to find ways to teach himself about the technology, giving him an excellent springboard into formal blockchain training.

An Innovative Future

Chao is a ambitious innovator with a fascination for future-focused technology, and is driven to make a difference in the blockchain space. One of his favorite classes was Natural Language Processing, taught by Dr. Chris Larson. He and Dr. Larson talked quite a bit about state-of-the-art models, and that class was his first contact with complex modeling. When he first started the class, he recalled predicting that NLP would be the next big thing. And, lo and behold, ChatGPT has changed the game! 

Blockchain technology will only become more applicable in the future, and Chao highlighted Dr. Nakul Padalakar’s Blockchain class as being one of his favorites. He was grateful for Dr. Padalkar’s dedication to explaining the systemic basis for blockchain as an academic area as well as helping his students understand how researchers and professionals view blockchain and the innovations it has helped create.

I am incredibly impressed by his unwavering enthusiasm for blockchain and distributed ledgers. His dedication to self-learning and his formal training in the blockchain course position him as a proactive contributor ready to make a significant impact in the field. His continuous drive to bring blockchain collaboration to the class and the DSAN students shows his passion and love for technology, fostering academic and industrial collaboration. Chao’s passion and commitment to staying at the forefront of cutting-edge technologies are truly commendable, and I do not doubt that he will continue to drive innovation forward.

-Dr. Nakul Padalkar, Assistant Teaching Professor, DSAN

Final Thoughts

Specifically for students coming from outside the US, Chao feels that it is vital to make sure to focus on professional development opportunities in the private sector that are open to hiring international applicants, embrace opportunities to interact with fellow US-based students, and engage in cross-cultural events.

In His Free Time

Reading: Systematic Trading by Robert Carver. “This a good book introducing you to building your trading system.”

Listening: To my favorite two podcast channels: Trading Camp– “Each episode will include an interview about the trader’s daily work, like what they are doing and what they are thinking about the trading” and Odd Lots– “Bloomberg’s Joe Weisenthal and Tracy Alloway analyze the weird patterns, the complex issues, and the newest market crazes. Join the conversation every Monday and Thursday for interviews with the most interesting minds in finance, economics, and markets.” 

“Also, some similar podcasts from my favorites like Crypto 101, Planet Money, Trading Nut, Masters in Business, Chat with Traders, etc.”

Watching: 3Blue1Brown “to learn some mathematics in a funny way” and Binance Academy, “it is the place where I learned a lot about crypto.”

Playing: “Definitely the strategic game: Clash of Clans. I love it!”

Anam Khan

Anam (’23) was awarded the Exceptional Masters Student Award by the Georgetown Graduate School as a first-year student in the Spring of 2022.

Anam’s empathy and kindness inform her perspective of the world and her commitment to effecting social impact through her work.

Journey to DSAN

The search for self-discovery was the catalyst that led Anam to DC and the DSAN program. As an undergrad, she was unsure as to what she wanted to do. She chose pre-med/biology at first, quickly realizing that it was not the direction she wanted to go. After being undecided for a time, Anam eventually decided to major in finance. It was in one of her finance classes, a statistics class, that her professor first introduced her to the fundamentals of data science, working in R-script. The experience led Anam to take classes in computer science and business technology, and something clicked. It was too late to pivot into a data major, but she had been bitten by the data science bug.

As she began to work in the finance sector, Anam found that she did not feel the same passion for finance and economics that her peers did. It was a time of great self-reflection for her as she worked to figure out which direction she wanted her career to take. She realized that when choosing a major at 18 or 19 years old, you don’t always have all of the information about what you will gravitate towards. As her finance career progressed, her stats professor continued to further her interest in data science; she even helped him to write a statistics textbook. When he started a data science master’s program in Florida, Anam looked inward and realized that while she wanted to pursue a master’s in the field, she wanted to strike out on her own and try somewhere new. 

Finding her Niche

“I like the way you can get the gist of a whole story based on the data. There’s a lot of data out there, and a lot of things that I feel aren’t analyzed. In one of my first projects in my first semester, we analyzed the quality of life for the queer community and the LGBTQ community. It was, surprisingly, pretty difficult to find data on that and to do any sort of actual analysis with that.” In her time here Anam has found herself inspired by the use of data storytelling as a catalyst for social impact. She is intrigued by the idea that you can create a factual story, using data, that motivates people to pay attention, to take action; that you can combine coding and data science with social change.

In affecting social impact through data storytelling, one has to be aware of inherent biases. Anam shared that many of the DSAN professors emphasize how important it is not to let your biases interfere with the story you’re telling with your data. One example she shared was when “analyzing queer life, I definitely had a lot of biases while I was doing that, and I was realizing that a lot of them were not what I thought. Because I remember doing something for analyzing just pay disparity. And in my mind, I was like, ‘oh, they’re probably getting paid less.’ It was interesting because that wasn’t really the disparity I was seeing in the data. It was more so men and women [with a pay disparity].” Anam also highlighted the distinct difference between data bias and the perspective from which you are presenting the data. “That’s why we have all these perspectives, and we have all these different kinds of people [in the field] because we don’t really want to hear the same story over and over again by the same type of person. Who you are, plays a role in the kind of data analysis that you do.”

“Anam is an exceptional student who is intelligent and actively participates in the classroom as well as in the program. She won the Georgetown University Exceptional Master’s Student award out of many nominees from different programs. She was an amazing TA who helped students significantly and she has proven herself as a great mentor and team player. Anam is very smart and kind and I have no doubt that she will continue to make valuable contributions to any team or organization she becomes a part of.”

– Dr. Purna Gamage, DSAN Program Director

A Force for Change

Advanced Data Visualization(ANLY-503) was an incredibly helpful class for Anam’s current job working part-time for a data science consulting company, Demographic Analytics Advisors, that focuses on non-profit consulting. The founder of the company is a senior fellow at MDI with whom Anam connected through a fellow DSAN student. After interning for the company over the summer, she was asked to stay on through her final year in the program. Her current work at Demographic is on a project that seeks to propose new ways to count Asian populations in the U.S. Census, as there has historically been a significant amount of error in how that particular population is reported. The hope is that this will highlight the need to investigate why this is happening and how to fix it, as it is not an issue isolated to the Asian community. The publication they will soon be releasing will have Anam’s name on it!` 

Final Thoughts

With her graduation date in May approaching, Anam finds herself excited at the prospect of forging her path. When asked what advice she would give current and future students she highlighted the importance of taking advantage of all the resources the DSAN program offers. “Your professors are super eager to help. Go to events and meet your fellow students. Finding people on the same path can be so helpful as you move through the journey of graduate school and the DSAN program. Engage with the program. This program is more than just your classes each week.”

In her free time: “I’ve gotten back into cooking, baking is a little harder, so I don’t do it as often. I cook a lot of pasta!” She enjoys cooking Pakistani food with her mom when she goes home, and she cooks the “easier” Pakistani food in her own kitchen. Her favorite Pakistani dish is Nihari, a beef stew, and paratha, a flat and flaky bread.

Swami Venkat

Swami (’23) is in his final year of the program after completing a Senior Product Management Internship with IBM Cloud over the summer of 2022.

As a Student Mentor for the DSAN program, Co-Director of Events for GradGov, and a writer/artist focused on community and connection, Swami personifies his commitment to giving back.

Journey to DSAN

The spark that would guide Swami on his journey was ignited in an undergraduate interdisciplinary class in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at the Vellore Institute of Technology in Tamil Nadu, India. It was fanned into flame in further classes: An AI class on how code became smart, Machine Learning, and Soft Computing. The latter was one of the most interesting courses he took, teaching how discrete math and computer science can combine to quantify approximate values, providing imprecise but usable solutions to complex computational problems. For example, you can describe red or blue…but how do you describe something that is “kind of ” blue? 

As he began to look forward in his journey, Swami wanted to find a career and learning path that was future-focused and could expand upon the classes he was passionate about as an undergraduate. This search led him to data science and analytics!

The DSAN program was an ideal fit for him in several ways. Swami appreciated the balance between applied data science and math, and was familiar with Georgetown’s excellent reputation and its campus with so much to offer. The school’s location in the vibrant and diverse city of DC was the “cherry on top!”

Finding A Community

Swami found himself feeling incredibly lucky in the experiences he had during his first year in the program. He met phenomenal people and made such wonderful connections that he wanted to give back to a community that had given him so much. He looked at his first-year experience as a student and as an individual and felt that it’s important to grow as both. “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect by looking back.”  

This realization, along with his excellent academic record and social experience here in the program, led him to GradGov, Georgetown’s Graduate Student Government that focuses on promoting academic, professional, and social growth. After looking at the available opportunities, he applied to be the co-director of events. Georgetown has a huge graduate student population and he was keen to meet people outside the program. Ideally he wanted to give back without expectation, work with like-minded people and a diverse leadership team, and have the space to execute his vision! His event motto is to “create experiences not just events.” This was borne out in the response to his first big event of the 22/23 academic year, GradGov’s Halloween Party. International students from our program, and others, were especially excited to be there as many were celebrating the spookiest of holidays for the first time!

” I remember the first time that Swami presented his Final Project in my class. I was in awe because he started the presentation with an utmost interesting twist in it. He and his team took a pretty boring topic and made it into something very interesting.  I was deeply impressed by his data storytelling skills. He is a great, kind and a very polite student who is actively participating in the program and always willing to provide his support. “

Dr. Purna Gamage- DSAN Program Director

Art, Storytelling, and Data

During the Covid crisis, Swami sought to understand himself better and how he could use his passion and experience for the service and benefit of others. Coming from a very musically inclined family, he had always been interested in the arts. As he explored different forms of expression, a friend suggested he begin by blogging. Thus @theartloupe was born, an Instagram account highlighting his thoughts and experiences during his final year of undergrad. It kicked off with movie reviews but has since evolved to focus on working through different perspectives and ideas through an artistic lens. His overarching goal is to uncover the essence of the everyday and why it’s beautiful, allowing the reader to join him in looking at the world in a new light.

Swami’s penchant for approaching things from a new angle has become an asset in his work and his studies. When he began his internship at IBM last summer, he found himself in a position to effect real change within the company. During his work as a Product Management Intern, he found malicious accounts that were going against cloud policies. By effectively visuzalizing the problem to his superiors, he was able to demonstrate the need to focus on banning malicious accounts. Making an impact as an intern, opening others’ eyes to a previously unseen issue, was incredibly gratifying.

As a student, his artistic background and internship experience have given him new certainty about the importance of storytelling in data science and analytics. Going forward he will seek to use his art and tech background to create compelling visuals that foster understanding and change.  “If stakeholders can understand the data and visualizations, your job as a data analyst is fulfilled.” 

Zev Burton

Zev (’23) is one of our first BS-MS Accelerated Degree students and entered the program from the School of Foreign Service (SFS) in 2021 during his last year of earning his BSFS in International Politics.

As a published author with a background in international politics and security and 250,000 Tik-Tok followers, this 22-year-old might just be on his way to being a renaissance man.

Journey to DSAN

Zev knew in his first semester in the SFS that he wanted to take the political history and theory he was learning and focus on making a difference in the world by solving current-day problems. The question was how.

Not long after joining Georgetown for his Bachelor’s in the SFS, Zev met Dr. Kimberly Sellers, a professor and statistician in the Math and Statistics department, at a research fair. In the two years he worked with her, they often talked about Zev’s desire to interact more with actual, current data instead of historical data. Dr. Sellers wisely coaxed him into taking more math and stats classes. He found he enjoyed getting hands-on with code and, with Dr. Sellers’ encouragement and assistance, applied for the BS-MS with DSAN.

The breadth of knowledge afforded by Zev’s combined education in the SFS and now data science and analytics has given him a path forward that he is truly passionate about: Helping to build a bridge between international policy and data, especially using data to ensure that diplomatic policy is working.

An Unexpected Turn

One aspect of Zev’s journey was wholly unexpected: TikTok activist and creator. 

Zev had written a book called Two Fish in a Tank: How Jokes Can Give Hope in a Fractured World. He was inspired by the writings of holocaust survivors, many of whom talked about how they made jokes in the camps to deal with the day-to-day horrors, and how humor is often present in even the most brutal situations as a means to cope and process. After writing his book and publishing it during the pandemic, his sister suggested that he go on TikTok to promote it. As Zev knew nothing about TikTok, it wasn’t the most successful of marketing plans. It wasn’t until he posted a short video about an obscure math summation before heading into his Russian class that he had his first brush with being a bit of a viral sensation.

He broke 5,000 followers pretty quickly but truly saw his TikTok profile blow up when he began posting on January 6, 2020. He was in DC at the time and used his platform and his SFS studies in domestic terrorism to give context and background to what was happening. As often happens, the internet was not always kind. Antisemitic vitriol rolled in. When he spoke about antisemitism, it blew up even more. He had his first million-view video. Putting it in context, Zev says, “Imagine that many people watching you speak in an auditorium.” As he progressed in the DSAN program he began to speak out about data misinformation, and his dedicated following has now tripled to 250,000. 

Zev is an excellent student who is full of energy, enthusiasm and has great communication skills. He is always very engaging and humorous in class as well as while presenting his research findings, which I think is a great quality as I’m always keen to hear Zev presenting. He is a very talented student and I can’t wait to see his next great adventure”

Dr. Purna Gamage- DSAN Program Director

Focusing on the Future

Zev’s ability and passion for communicating complex ideas and topics have become integral to his success in the DSAN program. He loves how the program emphasizes the importance of data communication, believing that anyone from any school can run the models, but DSAN emphasizes the importance of being able to tell the story. “A good data scientist can connect with the general public,” he says. “Data means nothing if you can’t explain why it matters”. 

His training at DSAN has given him a breadth of knowledge and a deeper way to look at the world. He believes that the best way to learn about the world is to know the “why” behind what you are learning.

Georgetown’s Data Science Program helped me leverage technical tools when applying my background in Statistics. In addition to learning from Computer Science and Statistics Graduate Courses, collaborating with professional students helped prepare me for interviews and refine my communication skills, especially when writing technical papers

Arif Ali, MS Analytics 2016, Business Intelligence Engineer, Amazon