When Raj Desai G’21 decided to leave his home country of India to attend graduate school in the United States, he looked for one thing in particular: practical experience. He graduated in 2019 with a Bachelor’s degree in computer science. Still, after hearing about his friend’s experiences studying abroad, he felt that the iSchool was the right place for him to get hands-on experience in the data science field.

Desai got involved in extracurricular activities, participated in faculty research, and started building his Master’s program for Applied Data Science. He was also excited about the opportunity to diversify his academic interests by taking a wide variety of courses.

“When I was an undergrad, I didn’t get to choose any of my courses,” said Desai. “Now that I’m at the iSchool, I can build a portfolio of courses that I’m interested in, and even take classes outside of the iSchool in computer science or at the Whitman School of Management,” he said.

One of Desai’s most significant projects outside his coursework is his role as a Graduate Faculty Assistant working with professor Bei Yu in text mining. The research focuses on building a model that explains people’s health beliefs about COVID-19 by annotating text to look for patterns. Desai is working on building a data set as part of the model to predict individual views about the pandemic. 

His role as a faculty assistant also requires him to work with students taking courses in natural language processing and answering their text mining questions.

“This job taught me how to help other students get into the data science field and use their projects we work on in class to get jobs and internships,” Desai said. “I love interacting with the students, even with our current virtual format during the pandemic.”

This spring, Desai worked for IPwe, a fintech startup based out of Dallas, Texas, as a data science intern working on extracting genomic sequences from thousands of documents. He then mapped this information with the organisms. He worked on another project based on financial data using SQL.

Desai also worked on a research project at the iSchool during the summer in which he analyzed more than 2000 documents to model energy trends in the United States. He simultaneously completed a summer internship at Tangible AI, a nonprofit startup based out of La Jolla, California. While his summer consisted of 80 hour work weeks at times, Desai is grateful for the experiences because he believes it helped him get ahead in his field.

He also gained practical experience in data analytics by working as an analyst for iConsult, the iSchool’s collaborative that connects students with real-world clients who need help with digital transformation projects. Desai worked on a project in the fall that built a chatbot that helped individuals with disabilities find jobs that match their skill sets. His role was to clean a data set using Python about what types of jobs are available for people with disabilities and what those individuals feel are their most essential skills. He then created dashboards and data visualization that the chatbot used to connect users with job opportunities.

All of these experiences have helped Desai prepare for his current job search. He will graduate in May and hopes to find a role as a data scientist or a data engineer. His work as a faculty research assistant and at iConsult has developed his interest in working in a position where he can use machine learning in the initial stages of preparing data for analysis.

“The faculty and staff have been so supportive of my job search in all aspects. They are so enthusiastic, and many career center staff members like Jeffery Fouts are always willing to help me prepare for interviews,” Desai said.

Desai isn’t sure exactly where he’ll end up after graduation, but he feels very optimistic about improving economic conditions amid the ongoing pandemic. He has many interviews lined up for full-time positions post-graduation. No matter where he lands, Desai is confident that his skills and experiences in data science from the iSchool will help him build the career of his dreams.