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Meet Claire Willett, Data Scientist

Claire is a Data Scientist at Conde Nast, where they publish magazines like Wired, Vogue, and Vanity Fair. Learn about her profession in the interview below where she talks about publishing, backend coding, and how STEAM led her to her work today.

What is a data scientist?  

I mainly try to make stories out of data. The "how" varies, but typically involves running analyses on user and content data and translating salient points with words and pictures.

How did you decide to be a Data Scientist? 

I'd always wanted to work in magazines, actually -- either as an editor or a contributor. When I graduated, it was a bit of a dark time for the print world, and the first job I found was in the marketing department of a tech company. Right away, I was fascinated by the strange neon numbers and dark screens on the computers surrounding me -- much more so than by what was on my own desktop, I should say. I was lucky in that my coworkers didn't mind teaching me the bolts of what they were working on, and doubly lucky that there was no one analyzing the impacts of our marketing efforts, enabling me to take that responsibility on, and I guess very lucky when my then boss allowed me to take a data science course; this enabled me to seek out jobs that were more and more about data and less about marketing, until I arrived at my current position, when words are finally starting to hold a bit more sway.

What or whom were you early influences?

I was drawn to plucky writers who forged their own paths, fictional or otherwise -- Jo March and Laura Ingalls Wilder were particular favorites. I also felt inspired by pretty much every subject of teen movie self-improvement montages, with an especial shout out to Cher Horowitz.

What advice would you offer for students to cultivate an interest in STEM and prepare themselves for a potential future career in a STEM field?

Coding is a nice thing to keep in your back pocket, but it likely won't resonate unless you find a subject you care about. Maybe you're passionate about 16th century marriage plots -- you could use a crawling script to extract all marriage plots from Gutenberg, run sentiment and text analysis on them, and visualize your findings in an interactive, searchable app. Or maybe you're colorblind and fashion-obsessed -- you could create an app that translates the colors in the fashion spreads you view online into ones your eyes can understand, etc., etc. I would also recommend learning both development and analysis, as if one doesn't sing to you, the other may.

How can a profession in a STEM field empower young women to make a difference in the world?

I don't think STEM fields have an automatic differentiating advantage, but the powerful thing about engineering, at any rate, is the scale/reach of what you're able to analyze and put out into the world. Basically, if you have an idea and the ability to build and test that idea yourself, you have advantages of time, control, and prediction. Of course, you still need to come up with the idea in the first place, and for that, I really think a strong language arts background will come in handy!