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Giving Analytics Students a Chance to Shine

by SAS Employee jennifers_sas on ‎03-05-2014 09:04 PM - edited on ‎10-05-2015 03:48 PM by Community Manager (331 Views)

Beth Schultz, Editor in Chief, AllAnalytics.com

2/4/14

 

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            Alex Akulov

 

As I shared a week or so ago, INFORMS, the leading organization for analytics professionals, has a great opportunity for analytics students. It wants to award one student a scholarship to use for attending its upcoming business analytics conference.

If you doubt the value of this opportunity, consider the experience of last year's scholarship winner, Alex Akulov. I caught up with Akulov the other day to get his advice for potential participants... and to find out what he's been up to in the year since winning the 2013 contest. (See INFORMS, SAS Name Student Winners .)

 

His advice for students is to participate, and his experience stands as the reason why

 

"There isn't a lot of opportunity, specifically in operations research and analytics, to distinguish yourself in a contest like this. So any opportunity to do that is a good one," Akulov told me in a phone interview.

And for a student, the competition has appeal in that it's really doable, he added.
In this year's contest, as in last year's, students must submit a proposal for analytics work based on information presented in a case study. They can ask up to five questions about the project during a two-week period, now through Friday, February 14, on an INFORMS discussion board. (For more details, read Analytics Students: Here's a Contest for You.)
Recalling his experience, Akulov said he remembers thinking, " 'Hey, I can do this.' It didn't seem like it would require a ton of effort, to be honest."
And that's really by intent. This contest, which is sponsored by the INFORMS Analytics Section and supported by SAS, is meant to help students practice writing the type of proposal that an analytics professional would whip up typically in the early phase of a project -- after exploratory work has taken place but before the problem is fully defined. As Akulov understood: "The point wasn't necessarily to solve the problem, but to sell the idea of how you would approach it in an analytical way."
And that, he added, wasn't something he had a lot of experience with in his schooling:
Coming out of my undergraduate studies and into my Master's, I thought, "OK, with operations research, you gather some data, do some math, and then you get a solution." It's an optimal solution, so you present it to the manager and of course, he's going to say, "Yeah, let's do it because it's optimal." What I didn't realize at the time is, that's not how it works. There are different feasibility constraints and change management processes to consider, so the optimal solution isn't necessarily the best thing for this company.
 
Working through the submission process in last year's competition helped Akulov realize this, he said:
It made me ask myself questions and forced me to think of myself as the client and to understand what I would want to see in a proposal. So it was an interesting experience and got me to rethink my idea of what operations research does -- in the real world, anyways.
 
Winning came with several benefits. For one, being able to attend a conference with the size and scope of the INFORMS Conference on Business Analytics & Operations Research was an unprecedented opportunity for him. "The experience was great, from the keynote speakers to the sheer cross-section of the different industries that I was able to get a glimpse of. You don't usually get that perspective as a student."
And then there are the benefits of community exposure and of having an analytics award prominently placed on his resume. Because of the recognition he received as the INFORMS student competition winner, Akulov said he was asked to speak at a local analytics user group meeting last summer and to participate in the networking events afterwards.
As for hiring managers? "People definitely noticed and asked me about it. During job interviews, I was able to use this experience as a distinct feature that no other candidates had," said Akulov, who is now working in Vancouver as a consultant with Deloitte's information management and analytics technology department.
All told, Akulov said he spent between 20 hours and 30 hours working on his submission. This includes time spent participating on the discussion board -- reviewing questions and answers already posted so he wouldn't be repetitive, and to get a sense of the directions others were going in -- and in submitting his own. "For the benefit I got, the time spent was well worth it."
If you're a student, don't wait to get started on your entries! If you know a student, be sure he or she knows about this contest. As Akulov said, it's an opportunity not to miss.
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