Data science is a rapidly evolving field, there is no doubt about that. However, this doesn’t have to be a stress factor for those involved in it. In fact, you can benefit from this as a field like that is bound to maintain a sense of novelty for a longer period of time. To make the most of this situation and take better advantage of the fast pace of data science, it would be best to have a mentor.
The role of a mentor has been popularized in pop culture, particularly in movies. Perhaps there is something in our culture that makes it very relevant, if not necessary, particularly in career-related endeavors. That’s not to say that a mentor is just a career-booster. In fact, you can have a mentor in every aspect of human culture, be it your profession, the art you feel expresses you the most, or even the sport you enjoy. A mentor is basically someone who is more adept at a certain activity and is eager to share his experience and expertise with you, usually as a labor of love. However, this doesn’t mean that a mentor is someone at the apex of their evolutionary journey. Anyone can be a mentor, given that they know enough and are willing to share all that in a constructive manner with their peers.
In data science, having a mentor is crucial, since there are so many new technologies out there, along with many more mature ones, that it’s often confounding! Also, with so many people having conflicting views on where data science is heading, and the recent buzz about A.I., you could really use some guidance, even if you know enough to call yourself a data scientist on your business card. Even though anyone more experienced than you can qualify to be your mentor, usually it is best if that person has enough commitment to the role to be of any use. I may want Mr. X to be my mentor, but if she is too busy with her career or her family to help me out, this isn’t really going to work, is it? One great place to find people who are serious about undertaking this responsible role is Thinkful, a startup that aims to connect data science learners with mentors in this field. Think of it like Uber for data science professionals (or aspiring professionals). Of course, there are other places where you can seek mentorship for your data science learning, but this is the one I’ve found to be the most serious about the task at hand.
Whatever mentoring ecosystem you decide to go with, it is important to cultivate the following qualities in yourself, so that you benefit from this experience the most. First of all, you need to have an open mind and be willing to learn new things. This seems obvious but you’ll be surprised how many people lack this fundamental requirement (which is probably why they never have a mentor throughout their careers). Also, you need to be willing to investigate whatever the mentor shares with you. Mentorship is not a cult. You need to take whatever your mentor tells you with a healthy skepticism. Look into it before you accept it. This allows for better comprehension as well. Finally, you need to be willing to change yourself, by applying the new things you learn. Clearly, learning is enjoyable, especially if you are not tested on it afterwards! However, for it to be useful, you need to apply what you learn, after you assimilate it of course. So, if you are willing to do that, you are bound to not only benefit from this new know-how, but also encourage your mentor to share more stuff, perhaps going deeper into the secrets of the craft.
Finally, whatever you decide to do with mentorship, be aware that this is not a one-directional graph. You can connect with other people, less experienced and less knowledgeable than you, and help them too. You can do that on your own, or via a more organized platform, like Thinkful. Whatever the case, even if this seems like a lofty goal for now, it doesn’t hurt having it in mind as a potential. Because at the end of the day, what’s left when everything else fades away, is our legacy. Personally, I can’t think of a better legacy than helping others in one’s field accomplish their potential through mentoring. What about you?
Zacharias Voulgaris, PhD
Passionate data scientist with a foxy approach to technology, particularly related to A.I.