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How do you thrive in an environment with no mentors?
Asked on 2020-10-20 18:14 by Sarvesh S.

Hi, I currently work at a local transit company and I am the first Data Science hire here. I am in a position where I have no one to bounce ideas with and no one to really guide me into what's next. I feel like I am stagnant here and I need to be a part of a team with people who have more experience and can actually design a long-term project where I can contribute.  I feel like my skills are being underutilized and I am not learning anything new. Most of my time goes into telling my manager what a data team should look like and how do we allocate our very limited resources as opposed to actually focusing on doing something with the data.

I apologize if this feels like a rant, but I feel like the longer I stay in this position, the harder it will be for me to find a good DS job.

Response #1
By Wojciech G. on 2020-10-20 19:42
Hi Sarvesh, thank you for sharing your concerns with us. This is unfortunately more common than not... A lot of companies I've worked with either don't have big data science teams or don't have people who are skilled/experienced enough to be great mentors.

I have a few pieces of advice:
  1. Connect with communities online. Depending where you are it could be a community like this one, or /r/datascience on Reddit, or Slack groups. This tends to be more transactional in nature, though -- you'll get advice when you need it, but not much beyond that.
  2. Go to meetups (virtually or physically). I find going to events and meetups to hear speakers helps a lot.
  3. Reach out to potential mentors on LinkedIn. The idea here is that if you find someone who has had a career path like the one you want, reach out to them and ask for advice... People are often very flattered when they get a message from someone trying to be like them -- especially if they're not asking for a job and not trying to sell them! This works really, really well.
Let me know if that helps. Very happy to elaborate!

Sarvesh S. on 2020-10-21 22:49:
Hi Wojceich, thank you for your response. This is very valuable for me. Thank you.

Response #2
By Andrea Y. on 2020-10-21 15:14
Sarvesh, I think it's good that you recognize that you're not necessarily in a work environment where you can thrive. Recognizing that and wanting to change that is really important. Some invaluable advice I've gotten from others is to build a personal advisory board -- a diverse group of people who can serve as your mentors and sponsors across all aspects of your life and career. These are people to bounce ideas off of and to help you navigate your career. Sometimes it's hard to rely on having this support at work and, even if you have this at work, it's always good to gain perspective from outside of the company.

Sarvesh S. on 2020-10-21 22:54:
Thank you so much for your response. I appreciate it.
Response #3
By Sara G. on 2020-10-21 15:29
I've had this experience before. I eventually left my job. If you spend most of your time in a job that's not stimulating, it's very hard to feel motivated to improve at work. However, I did try initiating my own projects at work, which helped me make more connections with people outside of my team. It wasn't enough to keep me there in the long run, but I feel like I made the most of the situation.

Sarvesh S. on 2020-10-21 22:52:
Hi Sara,
This is encouraging advice, taking steps to initiate my own projects is brilliant. 
Thank you
Response #4
By H L. on 2020-10-28 08:19
I’m not in the exact same situation. I wish I was in a team surrounded by data scientists so I can learn and and absorb and be guided by someone more experienced.  However, I’m not, and I guess the benefit to this is that it allows me to pretty much do whatever I want in terms of trying stuff out, experimenting, setting my own deadlines, and not get caught up with being right or wrong in my analysis.  What everyone mentioned about doing projects, networking via reddit/slack, local places is a great idea, but I would also see if there are interesting and creative opportunities that you can exploit given your current situation.  I would even go as far as using this time to try out whatever skill sets you need for your next role. 

Wojciech G. on 2020-10-28 15:14:
Thanks HL! Have you watched the talk by Jessica Hastings? I'm curious if her advice resonated at all.

More broadly, one of the ideas we've been exploring is organizing a data science project as a community, where people can volunteer to develop skills and capabilities... This would help with portfolios, and would, of course help with advice/mentorship. This would require a time commitment, of course... Curious what you and others might think?
H L. on 2020-10-29 22:30:
I haven't, but it does sound like a good one!  may need to catch up on it!  regarding your question,  I think it would be interesting and I do appreciate the vision.  It's a bit hard to answer on my end just because I'm trying to imagine the execution piece.  I think that  would vary depending on our community (size, goals, levels, etc) and that would drive how it will look like (i,e small vs large projects, 1mentor vs many mentees, engagement, scheduling, 
Wojciech G. on 2020-11-01 19:07:
Great, thank you for the thoughtful ideas!