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How One Applied Analytics Student Took Her Data Skills to the Next Level

Before coming to Columbia in 2023, Joyce Lu was already excelling in her role as a senior assurance associate at EY. She performed audits and facilitated initial public offerings for fintech and other technology companies in the San Francisco Bay Area, receiving firm-wide accolades for her work.

Despite her academic background in economics and accounting, Joyce often felt her skill set wasn’t sufficient to process these companies’ immense data sets. Three years into her job at EY, Joyce decided to temporarily step back and pursue a master’s degree to deepen her understanding of data analytics. 

When she discovered Columbia University’s M.S. in Applied Analytics program, which offered courses tailored for professionals and could be completed in a year and a half, she knew it was the perfect fit. 

We recently spoke to Joyce about her upcoming internship with Citibank, her new technical skills, and what she’s learning about machine learning and AI.

What have been your favorite courses at SPS?

I really valued the Applied Analytics Frameworks and Methods course because it’s very technical. We learned a lot about machine learning, which is something I didn’t have much exposure to when I was an undergrad or at my job. 

My Data Analytics Using SQL and Relational Databases class last semester was also very interesting. Every week, I learned something new. Plus, we completed a final project in which we applied what we learned from the semester to real-life data management scenarios and created back-end and front-end presentations.

What’s one important thing you’ve learned so far in the program?

My Strategy and Analytics class provided a valuable business perspective. We learned about how process automation is being applied in a lot of traditional industries and the strategies implemented to adapt to the changes. Financial services and tech companies, for example, are trying to implement AI to automate processes and better align with the market’s demand. I think it’s important to have a fundamental understanding of how automation might change my job or company structure as I step back into the job market. 

Have you been able to develop relationships with your professors?

I am very grateful that I have met many great professors with amazing work and academic experiences in the program, and I’ve had the chance to develop relationships with most of them. For instance, Kitty Kay Chan, who is also the Applied Analytics program director, has been my professor since I joined the program. I’ve gotten to know her very well, and she’s been helping me since the beginning of my time at SPS. Her course was challenging to me at first because I didn’t have much of a technical background, but the way she structures her class makes it easy to follow along. Whenever you have questions, related to either coursework or career development, she always makes herself available and gives constructive advice, which I am very appreciative of.

What will you be doing in your summer internship with Citibank? Will you apply any of the skills you’ve learned in the program?

This summer, I’ll be working as a financial management summer associate at the Citibank New York office.

I’ll definitely apply the new technical tools I’ve been introduced to for data analysis. When I was working before, it was mostly through Excel, which has some limitations. I have these analytical and data visualization skills now, which is important for trend forecasting and financial modeling.

Tell us about the Women in Data and Technology Club.

I’m one of the executive board members of the club. I do business development and partnerships, so that involves connecting with alumni and other professionals to organize events with the club. It cultivates a community of people in technology and data analytics. I enjoy being part of the club because everyone is really committed, and they want to make a change. The club is also a great opportunity for students to meet peers who are also interested in the field.

The club also has a mentorship program that students apply for in which we pair alums with current students. They have one-on-one sessions and learn from the mentors about the industry and their career paths.

What’s your advice to incoming students?

Learn as much as you can. Often, when there are a lot of deadlines and projects going on, you’ll want to just get through them, but don’t forget to appreciate the learning experience as it’s happening.

I’d also encourage students to build a good relationship with their professors as they can provide educational and professional resources. For instance, my SQL professor, Day Yi, shared tips about technical interviews he has seen throughout his career, which was very helpful for students trying to break into the data analytics field. Those kinds of connections are such a valuable and unique part of learning from professionals at SPS.

About the Program

Columbia University’s Master of Science in Applied Analytics prepares students with the practical data and leadership skills to succeed. The program combines in-depth knowledge of data analytics with the leadership, management, and communication principles and tactics necessary to impact decision-making at all levels within organizations.