Dr. Jessica Kirkpatrick - The Data Scientist Who Learned a New Way to Learn

Dr. Jessica Kirkpatrick - The Data Scientist Who Learned a New Way to Learn
11.21.2016

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Dr Jessica Kirkpatrick is a recognized leader in her field. Working as a Research and Strategy Insights Manager at Hired, she is the one that aggregates and analyzes the vital data that allows her organization to develop more successful marketing strategies and a better overall product. That requires a mind that is sharp and insightful, with the ability to both understand complex statistical results, but also effectively communicate them to her team. However growing up, she actually had difficulty in school, until she met someone that allowed her to understand her amazing mind in a whole new way.

In her own words, “I have a learning disability which makes it very challenging for me to read and write. For a long time I just thought I wasn’t very smart and that was why things took me so long. I was able to make real breakthroughs in high school when I started working with an educational therapist who specializes in learning disabilities. My educational therapist helped me understand where my strengths lie and how to accommodate my weaknesses. He also helped me realize that I could more effectively process written words by using books on tape or having my computer read text out loud to me. “

Capitalizing on her strengths and accommodating her weaknesses, Dr. Kirkpatrick eventually went on to earn a PhD in Astrophysics from the University of Berkeley. She wasn’t having a problem with school anymore. But the expanse of her education was not yet complete.

“I come from a science background. I started coding in order to do data analysis for research I was doing with a particle physics detector as an undergraduate. I then started expanding to building simulations and other data models. I love the idea of getting a computer to do work for me.”

While she had found the path to her career success, Jessica still faced problems dealing with a STEM industry that was often discriminatory towards her for her gender. Luckily she’s never been one to give up, and she found a way to overcome this issue as well.

“I have experienced sexist remarks and sexual harassment during my career. When I was younger I had a difficult time knowing how to respond when these things happened. While a graduate student at UC Berkeley I was the head coordinator for the Society for Women in the Physical Sciences and through work within that group I learned a lot about how to combat these issues and discuss them in a direct and productive manner. Now when someone says something that makes me uncomfortable (or that I think is discriminatory) I address it head-on. As a result, I rarely experience problems these days, or if I do experience a problem, it is usually resolved quite quickly and doesn’t escalate.”

After having overcome so much, Jessica now likes to give back, sharing her hard earned wisdom with the world, while also telling her story so that women in the tech and STEM fields don’t have to feel like they are facing their problems alone.

“I write a lot on my blog about how to break into data science. I also participate in meet-ups and give talks at colleges. I generally try to make myself available to folks who are interested in breaking into the tech industry but don't know how or what skills they should focus on. I [also] write a lot about how to combat harassment, gender bias, imposter syndrome, bullying, and other issues that women in STEM face on a blog I manage: womeninastronomy.blogspot.com.”

When asked what advice she would give to up and coming data scientists, engineers, and STEM professionals, Jessica said, “I've always found it's easiest to learn new skills by focusing on a particular project or goal that I am personally invested in. I suggest coming up with an idea (an app, a web page, an analysis) and then learning skills around trying to make that idea come to life.”

She also went on to add that, “it’s very important to leverage your network. I've never had much luck applying to jobs through their jobs page / website. Instead I try and make personal connections through LinkedIn or by going to events and meet-ups.”

Jessica Kirkpatrick on LinkedIn
Jessica Kirkpatrick on Twitter
Photo courtesy of Helena Price and The Techies Project

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