Jen DuBois By: Jen DuBois

Data Challenge Winner to Women in Data Science “Just Do It”

Jie Han, a graduate student at the University of San Francisco tied for first place in QuantHub’s recent Back to School Data Challenge. Read this former physician from Shanghai, China and mother of two’s inspiring story about her journey towards becoming a woman in data science and how she found out that she loves coding.

JieHanJie Han, a student in University of San Francisco’s Master of Science in Health Informatics program, tied for first place with Sophie Bair from Columbia University in our recent Back to School Campus Data Challenge.  We chatted with Jie Han after her win to get an idea of the woman behind the score.   It turns out that this former physician from China encapsulates many facets of what future data science talent, and specifically women in data science, looks like.

Following is a recap of our chat with Jie Han.

How did you feel about beating out hundreds of Data Challenge participants?

Of the feeling she got upon learning that she won Jie Han said,

“Unbelievable. It’s definitely a surprise. I never thought I could win first place. I just thought it was an opportunity for me to learn and improve my skills. I am excited for the whole week!”

How did you come to study Health Informatics at University of San Francisco?

Image result for University of San Francisco health informaticsWhen Jie Han, a doctor trained in China, relocated from China to the USA six years ago with her family for her husband’s work, winning a data science competition was nowhere in her future plan.  In Shanghai, China, she had been practicing integrated western and eastern medicine, specifically in the treatment of gynecological cancers. Little did she know these experiences would lay the foundation for her future interest in data science.

While Jie Han was treating cancer patients in China, she found it was hard to make decisions for individual patients, and especially hard to determine what was the optimal therapy for the individual.  At the same time she was conducting clinical research so, she reflected,

“I knew the importance of the data.”

Jie Han explained that after she moved to San Francisco, she took a break from being a physician to raise her two young children.  Concerned about taking a five year break from working,  she began to think about going back to school in order to carve a new career in San Francisco. Then she had an idea,

“I heard about the Health Informatics degree and I realized ‘oh that is what I am really interested in. Using clinical data to help providers solve real clinical problems for people.’”

Have you participated in a Data Challenge before?

This was Jie Han’s first time participating in a data challenge. Her professor, Dr. Patricia Francis-Lyon, told her about the Data Challenge and encouraged her to try it.  Jie Han explained that she thought it would be a good learning opportunity,

“In summer I conducted some predictive modeling projects with my professor and I thought it was a good way to see if what I had learned in those projects was useful or helpful with solving real world problems.”

Of her first experience participating in a data science challenge program, Jie Han added,

“I found it very interesting. It was an intensive learning process. I liked it.”

Were you familiar with the concepts presented by the challenge?

Jie Han said that although she knew of most of the concepts presented in the challenge, she still had quite a bit of work to do in order to solve it.

“I hadn’t practiced real world data science like this before, like graphing a decision tree for a real-world data set.  I had to try to understand these concepts at a deeper level.”

Jie Han also told us that she spent quite a lot of time studying and consulting with online resources to solve the challenge. Apparently her hard work paid off!   

Of the entire process she went through to solve the challenge Jie Han expressed to us that she gained quite a bit of valuable experience.

“I needed to look up lots of details from the documentation given to figure out the final answers. I had to make sure I could read it, understand it and modify it. I found that’s a good way to solve the problem.”

Does the theme of women in data science resonate with you in any way?

Being that both of our Data Challenge winners are women and that Jie Han is a  mother of two young children and a former physician who is re-skilling herself for a new career in data science, we were curious to know how she felt about the lack of women in data science.  It turns out, that because she has worked in science her entire career surrounded by other women, she had not really become aware of this issue.

She explained, “I didn’t think of this ‘women in data science’ question before because in our program we have a lot of female students and I have a couple of friends working in tech companies here.”  But she quickly came to a new realization.

“So I did a Google search on the topic of women in data science and I realized ‘Oh there is a huge gender imbalance in tech fields!’”

Jie Han then thoughtfully explained what her journey as a woman looking to break into the field of data science has been like.

“I hope my story can encourage some women who are interested in tech. I am a mother of 2 boys and have a 5-year gap from work. I knew nothing about computer science at the start of my program. It was difficult and it was tough. But I know it’s an opportunity for me to go back to work. At first I spent a lot of hours working on homework and projects and using internet resources such as Coursera, Kaggle, Github – I spent a lot of hours on that! Later I found I really liked it. I love coding! I really feel joy and excitement when I am coding and I solve a problem.”

The inspiring message that Jie Han most wanted to get out to women considering data science as a career is,

“If I can do it then every woman can do it as long as she is really interested in tech like me. Just do it! Don’t think about the difficulty, just do it and you will do it!”

She was also quick to emphasize that there are other keys to her success saying, “I thank my family, especially my husband for supporting me. Even the kids are really supporting me!”

What are your plans with your degree?

Jie Han’s goal is pretty clear, she says, “I would like to be a data scientist using health data. Now I am even more interested in dealing with healthcare data. I believe its another way to help patients.”

Do you think you would participate in another data challenge?

Jie Hans says that it its possible she would do another challenge because she had a good experience with her first one – so much so that she had a request for Quanthub. 

“I’d like to suggest to QuantHub to expand this challenge to more students. I think it’s a really great platform especially for students like me who are job hunting. I will benefit from this experience. Now I feel confident and comfortable looking for a job. I got more than just the certification of a winner. It gave me confidence and more interest in data science.”

Last but not least Jie Han added,

“And I want to thank my professor and my family.”

You are welcome Jie Han and congratulations!  We’d also like to thank Jie Han’s professor, Dr. Francis-Lyon, for encouraging Jie Han to participate and ultimately to win.  And we are especially thankful to Jie Han for her enthusiasm and wish her a bright future as a woman in data science on the road to achieving her goal of helping people by using data science in healthcare.



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