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The Value of Community: A Data Science Duo’s Powerful Connection

4 minute read | September 20, 2018
T.J. DeGroat

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T.J. DeGroat

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Meghan Thomason and Heather Passmore officially met for the first time IRL earlier this month at Springboard Rise, our first offline community event. But their friendship began online about a year ago, as they both started the Data Science Career Track with shockingly similar backgrounds.

Meghan has a Ph.D. in ecology from the University of California, Davis, and learned complex statistical techniques to evaluate data during the course of her studies, leading her to consider data science as a career. She also is the mother to twins.

Heather has a Ph.D. in ecology from Louisiana State University and minored in applied statistics during her doctoral studies, prompting her to consider data science as a career. And she just happens to have twins as well.

“We have several interests and experiences in common and that really helped us connect and get a lot of benefits from sharing our Springboard experiences,” Heather said.

Heather Passmore, Meghan Thomason, and Springboard's Catherina Leipold

Heather Passmore, Meghan Thomason, with Springboard’s Catherina Leipold

The two have a mutual friend—and Meghan’s LinkedIn research skills—to thank for their relationship. Since they were second-degree connections on LinkedIn, as Meghan was exploring data science education options, she reached out to ask Heather about her Springboard experience.

Heather had only completed a month of the Data Science Career Track before taking a short break to move to Washington, D.C. By the time she restarted the course, San Francisco-based Meghan had enrolled and the two became study buddies.

They scheduled weekly Google Hangouts to discuss the course, their mentors, and their projects. They also used Google Docs to share resources and set goals, holding each other accountable.

“We supported each other during ups and downs and shared our experiences along the way,” Heather said. “I believe that having a peer mentor contributed to my success in the program.”

“It was extremely valuable to have a peer with such similar background to share tips, experiences, struggles, and successes,” Meghan said.

The value of community during an online course cannot be overstated. Both women combined Springboard’s community platform with their own Slack groups and their regular one-on-ones to successfully complete the course.

“Having a community focused on accomplishing the same goal is crucial for staying motivated and on task,” said Meghan, who still follows forums and posts occasionally as an alum.

Meghan and Heather

Springboard Rise was an opportunity to bring that online community offline for a weekend of learning, networking, and fun. But for Meghan and Heather, it also was a chance to celebrate a year of friendship.

“It was a seamless transition moving from Google Hangouts to chatting IRL,” Meghan said. “Plus it was fun to tell people how we met and how many things we had in common.”

Both women recently graduated from the program and are shifting into data science careers. Heather is in the thick of the job hunt, looking for opportunities to use educational data to help make decisions that improve learning outcomes for K-12, higher education, or online learning. Meghan is a month into a data science job at a digital publishing startup.

They’ll continue to support each other as they begin this new chapter of their professional lives. And they hope their experience inspires other Springboard students.

“This story isn’t suggesting that you need to be in the same field and have a lot in common with your peer-to-peer mentor or study buddy,” Heather said. “Our story is saying that having direct contact with one or more students who are in the same track as you can really help. I maintained regular messaging via Hangouts with another Springboard classmate who contacted me via LinkedIn as he started the program. We come from different professional backgrounds, but found we could help each other and get feedback when we needed it. Find your buddy and stay in touch.”

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Why Springboard?

Heather and Meghan considered several other training options, but opted for Springboard because of the job guarantee, mentorship, and flexibility.

“I have school-age children and we were moving halfway across the country, so I needed the flexibility of setting my own pace and working from home,” Heather said.

“Like Heather, I have young children and was planning to leave my job, which meant two things: we could no longer afford childcare, and therefore would need flexibility in order to provide that care when my wife was at work,” Meghan said. “I found that some of the shorter programs either required me to attend in-person, or required 10-plus hours per day, but neither of these requirements were going to work for my family.”

If you are studying data science and want to become a professional data scientist, staying in touch with your classmates and discussing projects and study material through various platforms can smooth your path.

Since you’re here…Are you interested in this career track? Investigate with our free guide to what a data professional actually does. When you’re ready to build a CV that will make hiring managers melt, join our Data Science Bootcamp which will help you land a job or your tuition back!

About T.J. DeGroat

T.J. is a writer and editor waging war against unnecessary capitalization. You can follow him on Twitter @tjdegroat.