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By Daniel Egger, Director – Center for Quantitative Modeling, Master of Engineering Management Program, Pratt School of Engineering
In the week leading up to Tuesday’s presidential election, Nate Silver and his well-known political forecasting web site www.fivethirtyeight.com received harsh public criticism for assigning to Donald Trump a much higher winning probability than other similar sites.
If I recall correctly, this contrast peaked around Thursday, November 3, when Silver gave Hillary Clinton “only” a 65% probability of winning, while other mainstream projections all assigned her winning probabilities greater than 90%. Silver tried to defend himself by saying, in effect, that his expected vote percentages for Clinton were really not so different than those of other forecasters, but that he assumed higher variance around those numbers, so that her November 3 projected margin of victory (3-4%) was within a margin of error.
In hindsight, all forecasts, including Silver’s, based on third-party polling were quite wrong about the vote percentages, although Clinton still “won” the popular vote. Even more unexpected by the forecasters, Trump won the election in an unforeseen Electoral College rout.
It seems to me that Nate Silver should be given credit for being much less wrong than others (not to mention for sticking to his guns under withering, and in hindsight extremely foolish, criticism).
As a data scientist, I am interested in metrics that can quantify the relative effectiveness of probabilistic forecasts, in order to optimize forecasts in the future. What follows are two different methods that you may not have seen before that allow us to quantify exactly how much less wrong Nate Silver was than everyone else.
First I’ll use a standard Bayesian Inverse Probability approach. This approach is attractive in the present situation because, unlike statistical methods that require a large sample of outcomes in order to be reliable, it works perfectly fine for a sample size of one: the one election outcome that we have.
Under this method, I must first assume that one of the two probabilistic processes we are comparing is in fact responsible for generating any observed election outcomes. The first probability distribution, which I’ll call the “Consensus Process,” assigned probabilities of approximately 90% to a Clinton victory and 10% to a Trump victory. The second, “Silver Process,” assigned probabilities of approximately 65% to a Clinton victory and 35% to a Trump victory. I assume further that before observing the present election outcome, we had no rational basis to believe one of these two processes more than the other. Therefore the probability of each process, before any results are observed, is 50/50.
Applying Bayes’ Theorem, if an election victory for Clinton were the observed outcome, then it would be reasonable to infer that the probability that the Consensus Process generated the outcome was 58%, and that the Silver Process generated the outcome was 42%. This metric gives the edge to the Consensus Process, but not by an overwhelming margin.
On the other hand, since an election victory for Trump was observed, it would be reasonable to infer that the probability that the consensus process is the one that generated the observed result would be only 22%, while the probability that the Silver Process generated the observed result would be 78%.[i]
This is a pretty dramatic win for Silver, and it would seem that those who criticized him owe him an apology. It also suggests that he himself thinks of probabilities from a Bayesian Inference point of view, and is trying to minimize his parameter error in that context.
The second method will be familiar to my data science graduate students at Duke, with whom I approach the subject from both a Bayesian and an Information Theory perspective.[ii] I first need to assume a “base rate” for election of Republican and Democratic Presidential candidates. I will use a base rate of 50/50 (because the last 10 elections have been split right down the middle: 5 for the Democrat, 5 for the Republican; or because I really have no idea). Next, I treat the Consensus and Silver probabilistic forecasts as “side information” that could potentially allow a gambler who relies on one of them to bet on the outcome more successfully – with less uncertainty – than a gambler who knew only the base rate. The advantage of the second method is that rather than being a relative comparison of only the two processes, it is an absolute measure of forecast quality and any number of additional forecasts can also be compared using the same metric.
Based on a Clinton win, the Consensus probability would have reduced a gambler’s uncertainty about the outcome by 76.3%, while the Silver probability would have reduced their uncertainty by only 24.6%.
On the other hand, given a Trump win, both forecasts were worse than the base rate, so a gambler believing in them would have lost money, but the losses would be worse for the gambler betting based on the Consensus forecast. A gambler trusting in the Consensus would have increased their uncertainty over the base rate, by 23.2%, while a gambler trusting Silver would have increased uncertainty by only 18.0%.[iii]
Bayesian Inverse Probabilities:
Silver 78%, Consensus 22%
Kelly Side Information (both negative)
Silver -18%, Consensus -23.2%
For a detailed discussion and explanation of the first method, please see my Coursera course, Mastering Data Analysis with Excel.
For more details on the second method, you will need to enroll in my Data Mining course 590-05 here in the Duke MEM program.
|p(Process|Observation) = p(Observation|Process)P(Process) / p(Observation)|
|P(consensus process|Clinton win)||=(0.9)*(0.5) / (0.9)*(0.5)
|p(Silver forecast’ Clinton win)||=(0.66)*(0.5) / (0.9)*(0.5)
|p(Process|Observation) = p(Observation|Process)P(Process) / p(Observation)|
|P(consensus process|Trump win)||=(0.1)*(0.5) / (0.1)*(0.5)
|p(Silver forecast | Trump win)||=(0.35)*(0.5) / (0.1)*(0.5)
[ii] This method is called “Kelly doubling-rate-of-wealth scoring for individual sequences” – I really need to work on a better name.
|side information assuming base rate r = .5, .5 and|
|Clinton win:||forecast b(i)||base rate r(i)|
|under Consensus method||0.9||0.5|
|under Silver method||0.65||0.5|
|under Consensus method||0.1||0.5|
|under Silver method||0.35||0.5|
|side information (in bits)||entropy of base rate||percent information gain|
The career path is rarely linear. It often comes with twists and turns, as we evolve and manage the uncertainty that the career journey brings.
I grew up wanting to be a lawyer. This was my “dream job.” My senior year of high school, I took a law satellite class, where I was in the courtroom two times per week. From taking this class, I realized that this career would not be fulfilling for me. I found it too routine and boring. Now, I am grateful that I took Law Satellite, and learned this as a senior in high school. However, back then, this realization was devastating for me. Not only had I wanted to do that my whole life, but now, at the tender age of 18, I had to figure out what my career path was going to be. I couldn’t be the “average freshman,” who had no idea of what I wanted to do. It conflicted with my goal-oriented nature and I was freaking out.
I did some research, and was able to find a career course that started a few weeks before I began college. However, it was completely useless. So I was forced to “embrace the career journey.” Now, I look back at how I felt and laugh. I laugh because,
- I put myself under so much pressure when my career evolution has involved experiences that have prepared me to be skilled at what I do
- It is rare that people have engaged in the types of life experiences that creates career clarity
Since experiencing this, I have changed career paths again, and I continue to evolve in this aspect of my life.
My story is primarily related to not knowing what I wanted to do, but there are many other career-oriented stories that we have experienced. I have met with college students and working professionals who have been put in this place of what I will call “career uncertainty.” They have come to me because they are experiencing career challenges that conflict with their goals like,
- Not getting an internship or full-time job in the timing expected
- Being laid-off
- Frustrated with the process and effort that is placed into the job search
- Afraid that they either don’t have meet the requirements or have the career skills to get to where they want to be
When put in these types of situations, we begin to feel like a failure. Berating ourselves and questioning our worth. The word failure is harsh, and inaccurate. Many of these experiences are related to factors such as development or learning, and other things that are beyond our control like change and policies.
I recently attended a workshop at the NASPA Conference that included a discussion on resilience. Parallel to the conversation of resilience was failure. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines resiliency as: “the ability to recover or from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” Our presenters’ spoke about how the conversation regarding failure needed an adjustment, and I agree. One thing that is constant in this life is change. I believe that each experience that we have in this life can make us stronger, wiser, and better people if we are able to reflect on those experiences in a positive light.
So, I encourage you to embrace the change and cultivate resilience so that you can face adversity well, without compromising your sense of self-worth. And the next time that you feel that you have failed, consider it an opportunity to “fail forward.” To come out of the experience better than you had been prior. To bring this to life, I will close by sharing some online articles related to people who “failed” that achieved great success:
Good luck on your career journey!
By: Susan Brown, Assistant Director of Admissions
What kind of applicant are we looking for in the Master of Engineering Management Program? There’s no single answer. We consider your academic record, test scores, recommendations, resume, and statement, but in today’s post, we thought we’d expand on those 5 qualitative aspects we introduce on the MEMP website. The ideal candidate may show many of these qualities, but all candidates should be open to developing these characteristics through the program.
Engagement in the classroom, extracurricular activities, or in industry
Strong academic performance is important to any graduate program, but we’re interested in what you do beyond studying. Do you regularly contribute to classroom discussion, and can other students count on you in group projects? Or are you a student-athlete, an extra-effort volunteer, or active in clubs within your university? Perhaps you’re a member of professional organizations or an award-winning team member at work? We seek a well-rounded class of students who are engaged in the program, and your previous activities give us a glimpse into the kind of student you’d be.
“[The skills I found most valuable were] communication skills, robust negotiation, and persuasive skills that I learned while being part of multiple MEM student bodies and clubs.” – Abdul Khan, MEM Class of 2012
Leadership in academic to professional settings
What kind of impact have you had? Whether it was a team, project, or program, your past experiences in taking the lead form the basis for your development at Duke. Our programs strive to develop future industry leaders that drive innovation and development.
“We want [students] to learn to leverage diverse opinions and approaches to develop solutions that are better than anyone could reach alone. Developing leadership skills requires not only an understanding of leadership principles and approaches but also opportunities for students to actually lead and receive feedback on their actions.” – Brad Fox, Associate Dean and Executive Director, Professional Masters Programs
Global Awareness the appreciation and understanding of the world’s varying cultures, economies, and political systems
Today’s engineers are expected to work with colleagues all over the world. It’s crucial to understand how others perceive problems and solutions. Employers value engineers who can contribute to and thrive in diverse teams, and with our global student body, we do too.
“I’ve had the opportunity to learn from and work with various students whose cultures span the world, and the program has provided me with the chance to get hands-on experience in working in a global environment.” – Dayna Cole, MEM Class of 2014
Emotional Intelligence, including interpersonal skills and teamwork abilities
Emotional intelligence has been a bit of a buzzword, but its underlying tenet makes sense: how well do you understand, interpret, and respond to the emotions of others? How do you contribute to teams? Working effectively with others is a valuable trait for engineers. Your skills in this area will be an important indicator of how well you’ll do in the program.
“Three traits that I consider most valuable are interpersonal skills, agility, and attention to detail. In today’s world, these traits are very important irrespective of the field of work. Effective communication and the ability to find opportunities to lead/innovate is the key to being a successful project manager.” – Ramya Ramaswamy, Class of 2013
Engineering Leverage the vision to see your engineering education as the foundation for your graduate studies
You spent four or more years becoming an engineer – and engineers are in demand. The majority of our students find success in technology roles that let them leverage their business knowledge while building on their engineering backgrounds. If you want to reinvent yourself with a business program, there are many other great programs that will help you do so.
“The whole MEM experience was amazing. Unlike other programs that push you to a particular field, it gives you the ability to explore diverse career paths. With so many options present, both in the coursework and in potential career opportunities, you have the freedom to choose a role that is suited to your liking. It was a period of a lot of introspection for me as I tried to figure out the right path. It allows you to leverage your background effectively.” – Femi Sokoya, MEM Class of 2013
How many of these traits can you show in your application? Are you ready to develop more? Ready to apply? We’re excited to meet you. Contact us with any questions, and create your application account and apply online! Below is the list of requirements that can be found on our website.
The search process for a job or internship can bring up many emotions of frustration, excitement, rejection, and apprehension. Spending countless hours perusing job boards and networking while also trying to stay on top of coursework might start to be overwhelming. Even with these mixed feelings, it is a good time to evaluate your confidence in yourself, with professionals, and in the job search. Adding some positivity can help you retain a sharp perspective and refresh your outlook on prospects.
Surprise! When you are not confident, it shows on the outside. Here are some ways to find your inner confidence and remember that you have what it takes to be successful in your target organizations.
- Reward Yourself
Use positive reinforcement in your job search. After completing two job applications or conducting an informational interview, say you are going to go out to eat or meet up with a friend. This way you are rewarding yourself for the work you accomplished and taking a break from the process. Making progress on your search “to do” list might even start to seem fun as you finish your tasks.
- Write Down Your 5 Best Qualities
We do not do this enough! What are your strengths? Instead of focusing on your weaknesses, look at what makes you unique and how you use your best qualities on a daily basis. How can you leverage them during a networking event, on your resume, or in your classes? Your strengths can outweigh your weaknesses and be an integral part of your story if you intentionally use them during your job search.
- Find Success Stories
Start reading about or talking to successful people similar to your background who have “made it” in your industry of interest. What do you have in common with them? What techniques or strategies did they use to get where they are? Seeing how others made it possible might give you a newfound motivation.
- Journal to Reflect on Your Past Experiences
Through writing, it is easier to check in with your life and career goals. What are your values, interests, skills, and strengths? Have they changed in the past few months or over the span of your college career? What do you want in a work environment, place to live, a boss, or co-workers? Think about the last time you had to accomplish a big goal in the past and how did you do it? Make sure your search is aligning with your personality and lifestyle. Reflection and self-awareness can lead to a job that is the right fit for you and it helps you be genuine and authentic during the application process.
- Find the Right Mindset
Would you believe that your belief in yourself to succeed actually impacts real success? Through this concept of self-efficacy, believing you will find a job is important. Change your language from negative to positive. Some common thoughts might be “I will never find a job,” “No one I reached out to has responded,” “There are no positions out there for what I want to do.” How can you change this into positive language? “I will find a job,” “Someone I reached out to will respond” (maybe I should change my strategy), and “There is a position out there for me (what do I need to do to search more efficiently?).” Find ways to keep your motivation high and belief strong that something will work out.
- Get Other Perspectives
Hearing what others think of you can be great feedback and also a confidence boost even if it is not all positive. Feedback means you are getting a better picture of how you are perceived by others. Ask your family, friends, mangers, or professors how they view you. Have a mock interview with your career counselor. Also have someone listen to your career story and tell you what he or she heard. This will help you understand how to tailor what you say and be more effective to your audience.
- Expand Your Knowledge
Sometimes our confidence is low when we have insufficient knowledge about the subject matter. You might have experienced it before when you have to talk about something you are not an expert on. This is why knowledge is powerful when it comes to the job search. Research the companies and industries you are interested in and get to know the key players. What are the company goals, values, mission statement, history, products, or customers? Look up employees on LinkedIn and read about their experience or career path.
- Set S.M.A.R.T Goals
Do not set yourself up for failure by setting unrealistic goals. If your goals are constantly out of reach you are more likely to feel discouraged and unproductive. Set goals that are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Establish an action step and timeframe that would be achievable for you execute your plan. Set goals in small steps and figure out the logical sequence for you to reach that big goal.
- Think about Body Language
You portray confidence as soon as you walk into a room. Things like dress, eye contact, body language, gestures, and tone of voice all show confidence. When you are interacting with others in a professional setting walk with a purpose, gracefully enter and exit group conversations, smile, and have a firm handshake. Hopefully your confidence will be more apparent from the steps you have taken above.
- Evaluate Barriers and Supports
When understanding confidence you might feel like it stems from a weakness in an area. What are the areas that you would call a barrier in your job search? Identifying these challenges can only help you address them. Now that you know your barriers, whom can you reach out to for support? Make sure to use your resources and the people in your life to help you along the way. Also, having an accountability partner is a great way for you and a friend to keep each other on track with your search goals.
Last year, I was part of a leadership training workshop at work that included 13 people from across the organization. Our workforce, albeit small, is incredibly diverse so even this limited group included Americans, Canadians, Costa Ricans, Indians, a Nigerian, and a Romanian. As an exercise, we were asked to draw three circles to represent the past, the present and the future respectively. Without giving it a second thought, I drew a small circle representing the past, a bigger one around it for the present, and the biggest circle around the second one for the future (imagine a dartboard with three concentric circles).
When the group shared their drawings, I was quite surprised to find that only one other person (interestingly, an American) had drawn the same figure. Everyone else drew three circles of varying sizes not in a concentric manner but side by side in a linear fashion, starting with the smallest and ending with the biggest representing the future.
The presenter explained to us the difference between this circular/cyclic concept of time vs. the linear concept of time. In cultures that value this “linearity” of time, it is too precious of a commodity to be wasted. It moves fast and one must move with it, making use of every minute to produce value in some form or the other. This is typically an American concept of time, and also one that is greatly valued by German, Swiss, British and Scandinavian cultures (to name a few).
The “circular” concept of time, on the other hand, is one where people try to understand the linkages and connections between the past, the present, and the future. It is almost as if life controls time, rather than the other way around. Decisions are made differently with reflection on and consideration to past experiences. It should come as no surprise that this is a predominantly eastern view of time and life, notably in Chinese, Japanese and Indian subcontinent cultures.
Photo by Nitya Mallikarjun
As foreigners studying or working in the U.S, we find that time is not the only aspect of life that may be different from what we were used to back home. As the global economy grows, work becomes increasingly knowledge-based, and technology breaks down barriers to communications and collaboration, we may find ourselves in a workplace that is more diverse than ever before. Luckily, organizations the world over are quickly recognizing this diversity and cultural differences as an asset rather than a liability. This means by increasing awareness of ourselves and our surroundings, we have the ability to truly succeed in the global marketplace no matter who we are or where we are from. To explain how this cultural diversity comes into play in our workplace, I broke down the essence of “work” into three broad categories that I feel are agnostic to one’s job, company, or industry. They are more process-oriented and will most likely occur in some form or another no matter what you do.
In the knowledge economy it’s becoming clear that as important as what you think is how you think. With companies focussing on rapid problem solving, creativity and innovation, having cultural diversity in the way people think about specific problems helps in identifying solutions in a more effective manner. These cultural differences are also important because they can help avoid groupthink, minimize expert overconfidence (yes, there is such a thing!), and glean new & fresh insights as well as perspectives. Try to let go of your fear of being wrong, and don’t be afraid to bring your own unique perspectives forward. Thinking however, is not enough. We must also be able to communicate these ideas in an effective manner which becomes a challenge when working in a culturally diverse group.
When it comes to communicating in a culturally diverse setting, things can get tricky and often do. Some cultures are infamously upfront and direct, while others are more indirect and non-confrontational. It is important to understand that you do not need to become like one from another culture, you simply need to find the right balance while communicating with people. This means understanding them, understanding yourself, and finding the best way together to get the message across. As young professionals we are particularly at an advantage for this kind of learning and being able to apply it to work. Ask your friends, ask your peers, and especially ask your managers and superiors how you can find the right balance while communicating with your team.
Now that you have brought forth your unique perspectives and communicated them with those around you, it is important to be able to adapt to how your team and company works and values time within the context of work. Do you understand how work is divided within your team and why? Do you know what is expected of you and when? Do you know when you need to take initiative, and when you need to be a supportive team member? In some cultures, work is defined and we are encouraged to not question authority and “go with the flow”. Deadlines are not stringent, and focus may be on long term gains. In other cultures, especially in the U.S, you may be expected to show initiative and take on things without always being asked. Time may often be more important than money. Try to understand these expectations from the perspective of your job function and your role in the team/organization, and continuously look for feedback to grow and improve.
There is a common thread in all of the three above – relationships. It’s easy when you are friends with everyone you work with, but that is not always the case. Better relationships should mean better teams that think more creatively, communicate more effectively, and work more efficiently. But, it’s a vicious circle of sorts because these three in turn also lead to better relationships! So whether someone is from your culture or not, try to understand their perspectives and focus on building a genuine relationship based on mutual trust, respect and understanding.
Welcome to the last weeks of class! In the next two months, you will begin your summer internship or your first job after the MEMP or MEng program. Congratulations on your hard work and perseverance!
In Career Services, we’ve found that our students fall into two categories once they have committed to a short-term or long-term role. In one “camp” we have the students who are so relieved to finish their job or internship search that they put the role they will take completely out of their mind. They have classes to finish, projects to complete, and want to connect with friends before they disperse. Think of an athlete who has finished one of the most intense games they’ve ever experienced and you’ve correctly pictured these students. And we get it. You may have spent the last 9-12 months looking for said job or internship and need time to recuperate and finish strong in finals.
The second “camp” of students is those who celebrated accepting a job or internship offer and then recommitted the time used for their search to preparing for the beginning of that role. We’d encourage you to be part of the second “camp” of students. To have the most valuable internship experience or the best first 90 days in your new full-time role, you need to be prepared. And don’t assume that because you successfully completed the job or internship search, that the preparation ends there.
One of the most valuable components in your preparation is the role that feedback will play in your experience. Consider both the feedback you will receive from supervisors and peers and the feedback that you will provide in 1:1 and team settings.
To give you a better understanding of how to receive feedback in a constructive way and how to provide helpful feedback, read this article on The Art and Science of Giving and Receiving Criticism at Work from Fast Company (originally written for Buffer). Learn which strategies will work best for you and ways you can ask for feedback that will promote constructive conversations.
To go deeper into how you receive, remember, and utilize feedback, watch this TEDx talk by Sheila Heen, a founder of Triad Consulting Group, a member of the Harvard Negotiation Project and co-author of Difficult Conversations and Thanks for the Feedback. The 20 minutes go fast as she provides ideas for how to incorporate others’ feedback into your own learning and growth. One of her main points is that you can’t wait to be assigned a good manager who is able to provide feedback in exactly the way you like. You have to learn how to utilize feedback from multiple sources.
Utilize these two resources to help you better prepare for your internship or the start of your full-time job. Knowing how you will handle feedback and also how to provide it to others will be key to your success and professional growth!
By: Samyuktha Sundar, Student Coordinator DuHatch, MEMP ’16 and Ric Telford, Adjunct Associate Professor, Executive in Residence
On September 3rd, The Foundry had its Open House, revealing to everyone this amazing new 7,600 square foot facility on the ground floor of Gross Hall. The Foundry serves as “maker space” for students, faculty and staff who have an idea and want to build it from the ground up. Given the mission and vision of the Foundry, it became a perfect new location for DUhatch, Duke’s technology incubator program. Earlier this month, DUhatch completed its relocation to the Foundry and is ready to start the next step of a journey that began 5 years ago.
DUhatch (short for Duke University hatchery) was first conceived in 2011 as a subsidiary of then Duke Student Ventures. Duke has always had its share of budding entrepreneurs, and the time seemed right to start developing more tools that could help the entrepreneur community at Duke. Space was carved out in the Teer building and DUhatch came to life in 2011 with a well-attended kickoff event.
The mission of DUhatch is fairly straight forward. DUhatch is committed to helping incubate new ideas on campus by providing space, equipment, mentorship, and a network for student success. There are anywhere from 5 -10 teams at any given time in DUhatch and they provide a wide range of product and service solutions.
One of the more well-known graduates of DUhatch was Tatiana Birgisson. Tatiana started Mati Energy drink – a healthy alternative to today’s energy drinks. Tatiana was a Google DemoDay winner and continues to build her company by working out of the American Underground in Durham.
DUhatch is now part of larger, coordinated efforts across Duke focusing on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E). We coordinate with the leadership in the Duke I&E organization to ensure we complement activities across the campus.
Today, we have a record-high 10 teams that call DUhatch home and they represent a wide variety of new business ideas, including:
- FarmShots: Image analysis to help farmers and agronomists
- Physao: Remote monitoring platform for chronic lung conditions
- BioMetrix: Motion capture wearable sensors
- Genie: Peer-to-peer service provider
- Mentormee: Mobile mentoring platform
- Tiba Health: Wearable device for patient adherence
Come by and see the DUhatch digs next time you are in Gross Hall – we can be found in workspaces 45 and 47. If you are interested in learning more about DUhatch, check out our website. For more information, subscribe to our listserv by clicking here.
By: Susan Brown, Assistant Director of Admissions
This summer, we became the first department to launch a new application that Duke plans to roll out across the university. Being an early adopter had its ups and downs, and we’re still fine-tuning the system in preparation for our early 2016 deadlines, but we wanted to highlight a few features and tips for the new application.
• GRE Scores: If you’ve taken the GRE multiple times and gotten higher section scores on different test dates, this new feature is for you. Our new application allows you to list your highest GRE section score and the date it was obtained. As long as you report all results to Duke (institution code 5156), we’ll take your highest score in each section.
• Multiple Applications: Can’t decide which program is right for you? (See our video below.) Want to apply to several programs? The new system allows you to create multiple applications to several Duke programs in engineering, divinity, or the environment.
• Document Uploads: We require a resume, statement of purpose, transcripts and other associated documents, but the new system will not show the transcript uploads until you’ve submitted the application and paid the application fee.
• Status Updates: After you submit your online application, you’ll be able to check the status of your application materials via Duke’s Applicant Self-Service system. Applicants who submit their application should receive an email on how to create this log in within five business days. We recommend that you check periodically to ensure that all required application materials have been received.
If you have any questions while creating or submitting your application, please contact us. We’re happy to help!
• Master of Engineering Management (both campus and distance): email@example.com
• Master of Engineering (all disciplines): firstname.lastname@example.org
The MEngagment Career Committee interviews Dr. Bob Barnes, Professor of Biomedical Device Innovation and Project Management.
Dr. Barnes brings his rich experience in project management to MEM, MEng and undergraduate students in his Biomedical Device Innovation and Project Management courses here at Duke. “At Duke, we have a very unique situation, and this is one of the things that all engineers should recognize, especially MEng and MEM. If you’re in biomedical engineering (BME), you’re in arguably the number 1, number 2 BME program in the country and perhaps in the world. But it’s very rare situation in which you can walk less than a mile and be at one of the top medical schools in the world, one of the top hospitals in the country, at the number 7 nursing school in the country, at one of the top business schools in the country, one of the best law schools in the world, one of the best public policy schools in the country, and have a great economics program. If you’re interested in being an entrepreneur, those are the things you need to have, and you can walk to every one of them. There are very few places in the world, where you can do that. To come here and not take advantage of these things, doesn’t make any sense”.
The MEngagement Career Committee sat down with Dr. Barnes to get his insight and advice to students regarding industry and the job search process.
Q: What made you pursue a career in project management? How did you get into teaching courses in project management and biomedical device innovation?
A: When I was in the 6th grade, I decided I wanted a PhD. I put a plan together to get the PhD by the spring of 1974, and missed that by 6 months. After that, I taught and was up for tenure a year earlier than I had thought. I’ve always been a project manager, it’s just natural for me. During this point of time, if you take a look at NASA, take a look at things that were happening in the U.S., it was the era of project management. I came along with a right attitude at the right time. I’m a civil engineer by training, not a biomedical engineer. Through a number of opportunities that were presented, I had a chance to work with Abbott, Pfizer, Guidant, Medtronic and Eli Lilly; all of those having to do with managing new product development, as a consultant. In 2010, I made a decision, I was tired of traveling. From 1990 until 2010, I would leave home Sunday night and come back home Friday night. Decided, I didn’t want to do that as much. Just happened to meet Barry Meyers, who introduced me to George Truskey. Dr. Truskey had a grant. He needed somebody to teach a course called Biomedical Devices, and that’s how I wound up doing this.
Q: During your experience, what are the qualities, skills or traits that stand out that enable engineers to be successful? What have you seen as a project manager in your team of engineers?
A: There are 2 things that drive engineers to be successful. The first one is necessary, but not sufficient, is you must be technically proficient. It doesn’t mean you have to be an expert. The next thing you need to be a good engineer is to be able to define problems. What is sufficient is if you can’t define problems, then you will do 2 things: You will solve problems that are of no value to anyone. The second thing you will do is you will waste your life. A 30 – 40 year career. That’s all you have. I’m only going to work on those problems that are meaningful to me because if you can’t define the problems, you can’t get there. Identify: “Is this problem worth my time?”
Q: I saw part of your interview with the MEM PDC where you talked about technical proficiency. You mentioned how competency is an important trait in leaders. How does one prepare for the transition from an engineering role that requires technical proficiency to a managerial role that requires competency?
A: Well I think preparation is one issue, but the first step is desire. You have to recognize as an individual contributor you can recognize tremendous value in your life and tremendous rewards. That’s a decision as an engineer you need to make early on in your career: “Do I want to be an individual contributor?” Or “Do I want to be somebody that can leverage my skill set through others to accomplish far more that I could ever accomplish by myself?” So this becomes a very personal issue with people. It’s that “I did it” is a very different experience from “We or They did it”. I don’t get turned on by “They did it”, not even by “we did it”. It’s a mindset that’s difficult for engineers to attain. Because of the way we’re trained, and the way we’re attracted to the profession. And that’s okay because there are things that you as an individual can do that nobody else can do, and you should take pride in that. But if I can get 4 more people like you, and I can get you to work together, the five of you can accomplish things that nobody else can do. And that’s the reward you have to seek.
Q: Now shifting our discussion from career pathway to internship and job search process. What have you seen in the past work for students in terms of finding an internship or job, and what advice would you give to current students who are in the process right now?
A: There are 2 things that pop out now. Number 1 is to start early. The second thing is to ask “What contribution can I make?” not “What do I want?” I guess, the third part of this is doing your research to make sure that what you want is consistent with what the hiring organization needs. You have to start early, you have to identify a number of different opportunities, you have to do your research. If I’m the hiring organization, don’t come to me as if this is the first time you’re hearing of this organization. So do your homework, and you may discover that you may not need to talk to them as they may not be doing the work you want to do. That’s the reason you want to start early, as opposed to wait to start in the spring.
Q: For company research, you can look at the company website and attend information sessions. What are other ways to approach this?
A: Let me give you an example, there is a good group that meets at Research Triangle Park, Indus. It’s an international organization of Indians who are entrepreneurs. These are people that are entrepreneurs, that are really interested in young people, who are engineers that want to be entrepreneurs. There are different groups.
Start networking. And when you show up in your first semester, get to the know the people who are in their last semester. “Where did you work? Who did you work with?” Network through them. Because the best way to get a job with me is for somebody that has worked with me, that did well and says, “I’d like you to meet _____, would you mind if I left you her/his resume? I think she/he would do a good job for you”. There’s no better way.
Q: Since you’ve brought up entrepreneurship, some students are interested in working for a startup or even launching a start-up, but they feel the need to work for a larger corporation first. What do you suggest?
A: Most of you don’t know enough to make significant contribution to an entrepreneurial firm. Let me bring up the example of Indus again. One of the officers this past year is a former chief financial officer of RedHat. If you happen to have coffee or tea with them and they’re retired, and they discover that you’d be interested in working in software development, why shouldn’t you ask, “Who’s hiring?” SAS Institute is in the Park, Quintiles is in the Park. The story is: it’s here. Start networking, and start asking “Who can connect with me?” The best connection is with somebody who has worked there. So start with the MEng and MEM students this semester. Start now.
Q: My final question is apart from the career services on campus, what is the best resource that students can use to leverage their chances of securing their dream job or internship?
A: The real problem with dream jobs is that they don’t exist. Most of us wind up from going place to place, and we wind up at some place that fits for us. One of the things that I wish our students would do, for example, the American Society of Civil Society has a chapter, the IEEE has a chapter, BMES has a chapter, these are professional chapters not student chapters. They all meet between Greensboro, Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, they’re all in that area. If you want a job, find out about the professional societies. Find out when they meet, get a friend to go with you and go. Most of them have student fees too. The best way I know is to put yourself out there, be bold, and get to know people. Let them know when you show up in the professional engineering society of North Carolina, in the American Society of Quality etc., you’re going to be the youngest person there. So when you check in, say “I’m a student, is there someone here I can talk to just to get acquainted with the organization.” What’s the worst that can happen? They don’t talk to you at all, but at least you get to eat something. Even if you don’t meet anybody, you expand your cultural experience. You have to put yourself out there.
By: Daniel Egger, Executive in Residence and Director, Center for Quantitative Modeling
Last Spring, I competed for the right to develop a series of four online courses in Business Data Analytics for Coursera: what Coursera calls a “High-Demand Specialization.” We won!
The Specialization is called Excel to MySQL: Analytic Techniques for Business and it’s my primary responsibility to deliver the first two of four courses: Business Metrics for Data-Driven Companies, (which launched September 15th) and Mastering Data Analysis in Excel (launched October 19th). I’m also developing a really cool Specialization Capstone Project in collaboration with Airbnb, which will go live on January 18th, and involves student developing their own predictive models to optimize the rental value of residential properties.
Along with my collaborator, Neuroscience postdoctoral student Jana Schaich-Borg of the Information Initiative at Duke – see bigdata.duke.edu – and a team from Duke’s Center for Instructional Technology, we have been working seven days a week to deliver four Courses and Capstone on a tight schedule. Many current MEM students are contributing directly to the effort, as Teaching Assistants on one or more of the Specialization Courses, helping us catch mistakes, develop practice problems, and provide high-quality supplementary materials.
The first Course aims to be a non-technical overview of the ways data analysts, business data analysts, data scientists and other technical folk interact with data in the business world. It is organized around what business metrics are most important to track, and what kind of jobs people actually do that involve Big Data: what tools they use, and how they identify opportunities to increase revenues, maximize profits, or reduce risk. The course also explores how different types of companies, with different corporate cultures, are responding (or not responding!) to the competitive opportunity and threat of Big Data – how effectively they are embracing “Big Data Culture.”
As part of my preparation, I got in touch with a good number of MEM alumni who are pursuing careers in data-analytics fields. It was cool to hear about the exciting jobs our students are doing all over the world. Many are working with the very latest technologies and are applying them in completely new ways. It is very gratifying to see how much responsibility our students have already taken on early in their careers, how much they are obviously enjoying their work, and how well prepared they are to succeed in a Big Data world! Three of my former Data Mining students seemed so representative of the rest – and so articulate – that I decided to include interviews with them in Course 1.
Over 6,000 learners enrolled in Business Metrics for Data-Driven Companies in its first two weeks since launch. Many learners have commented in the forums on how much they like the interviews. Making the interviews was my favorite part of creating the course.
The interviewees are:
Shambhavi Vashishtha (MEM Fall 2012) who works as a Business Analyst at Opera Solutions, a leading IT-focused strategic consulting firm. Video Interview
Tiffany Ting Yu (MEM Fall 2012) at the time of the interview a Business Data Analyst at Argus Information & Advisory Services, a strategic consulting firm which has developed its own proprietary databases and specializes in helping banks market credit cards and manage their credit card risk (since September 2015 Tiffany is working in a similar role at Goldman Sachs). Video Interview
Dai Li (MEM Spring 2013) who works as a Data Scientist at If(We), a high-tech startup in the social networking arena. Video Interview
Really, these interviews speak for themselves – opportunities for MEM graduates with a strong interest in data science and a willingness to acquire new technical skills on the job are practically unlimited in today’s market.
Click Here to see the 3 full videos!
By the way, Course 2 – Business Data Analytics with Excel – launched last week! – is based closely on the Data Mining course I’ve developed over the last six years for Engineering Management students. We use a simple and accessible data-processing tool – Excel – that raises minimal technical barriers to participation – but nevertheless develop mathematically deep and generalizable (Bayesian Logical Data Analysis) methods that aim in the long run to help rationalize the field of data science.
Course 2 focuses on how quantitative measures of Information, uncertainty, and reduction in uncertainty or information gain, bring accountability to the work of data scientists. Information measures are objective and can provide a shared conceptual framework to allow all stakeholders to track the incremental value of an individual model, or an entire data-science engineering initiative, independently of the technical details of the algorithm or project.
The videos and supplemental materials we’ve created for both Course 1 and 2 will I hope also be a valuable resource for future Duke Data Science students – by covering basic principles online, we should free-up more class time for individual project work with real data sets.
Course 3 – Data Visualization & Communication with Tableau and Course 4 – Managing Big Data with MySQL – are being developed primarily by Jana. They will launch in November and December respectively. We hope you will join us for some or all of this adventure!