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Teaching Practical Skills in an Applied Analytics Course

Dr. Jennifer Tsao, lecturer in Columbia University School of Professional Studies’ (SPS) Master of Science in Applied Analytics, has spent almost two decades in various strategic roles at Fortune 500 companies and a leading management consulting firm. In addition to teaching at SPS, she is the senior director of corporate strategy at Quest Diagnostics.

“Teaching Applied Analytics at SPS has been a great complement to my work,” said Tsao. “I enjoy passing on my practical knowledge, and in turn, it has been exciting for me to gain different perspectives about the field from my students.”

Jennifer shared her thoughts on the practical skills students can learn in the Applied Analytics core course, what she most enjoys about her jobs, and what skills she values in team members.

What course do you teach?

I am currently teaching Applied Analytics in the Organizational Context, which is the first course students take in the Management Core. The course gives students a high-level overview of how data and analytics are used in different functions to inform decision-making. It also focuses on teaching critical thinking and communication skills, and I emphasize to my students that these skills will be fundamental in any career path that they choose.

One of my favorite aspects of teaching this particular course is hearing from students who have experiences in different functions and industries. The students can learn so much from each other. For example, some students have firsthand experience with the newer AI-enabled analytic tools used in the hiring process, which we cover in one of our lectures. 

What do you enjoy most about your role and the work that you do?

Corporate strategy is a function that can look very different at different companies, but I’ve been lucky to find roles that align with my passions and skill set. I primarily work directly with senior leaders to help them frame out and articulate their strategies. 

My favorite projects are the ones that bring together quantitative analysis and qualitative insights to facilitate decision-making. Strategic decisions are incredibly complicated, and while data and analytics are an integral part of most business directives, communicating the context of an analysis and the assumptions that drive it is just as important. You can do an absolutely amazing analysis, but it won’t matter if you aren’t able to communicate the results in a way that makes sense to and is appropriate for your audience.

What skills/talents do you value most on your team?

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with some amazing people both at Quest and at Pfizer. One thing they all have in common is their innate intellectual curiosity. This natural desire to learn new things and make connections between seemingly unrelated things leads to better problem-solving and decision-making. Asking questions, researching information, and seeking new solutions to problems are all hallmarks of great strategic analysis.  

As I mentioned, I also really value good communication skills—not just verbal and written communications but the ability to be a visual storyteller. Like it or not, many businesses still rely on Powerpoint as a primary communication tool, and being able to craft a cohesive narrative in slides is extremely important.

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. Learn more here.