Eric Willis will receive PhD degree in Chemistry from the University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in August 2020. Eric’s dissertation research focused on the development of novel computational techniques to simulate the chemistry in star-forming regions and on cometary surfaces. Eric participated in Career Design and Consulting core modules of PhD Plus.
Eric was a PhD Plus intern in Elder Research Institute (ERI) in Spring of 2020 under the mentorship of William (Will) Goodrum and Sam Ballerini. After completing PhD dissertation, Eric joined Elder Research Institute in Arlington, VA, as a Data Scientist in August 2020.
What are your post-PhD career aspirations?
I would like to leverage the programming and data analysis skills that I developed during my Ph.D., as well as at Elder Research, to contribute to ‘data science for the public good’ efforts. My current position at the Elder Research allows me to do this, by leveraging my scientific expertise and data analysis skills to assist clients in testing its operational systems, ensuring that they work as planned.
How would you summarize your PhD Plus internship?
I applied for the PhD Plus internship program because I was very interested in learning more about careers in data science. I had a lot of programming experience from my dissertation research, but I wanted to learn how to apply those skills in a real-world setting. While at ERI, I contributed to a project that utilizes deep learning frameworks to investigate satellite imagery, with a particular focus on natural disasters. The experience in general was very helpful, and it taught me a lot about the business world. Will Goodrum and Sam Ballerini were excellent mentors, and I learned more about the world of data science from them.
What professional skills did you develop during your internship?
I developed a lot of project management skills. Interestingly, I also learned more about myself. Having to juggle my time at ERI alongside dissertation research completion was a challenge this Spring. However, I learned that I work best in pressure-filled environments. I also learned about corporate organizational structure, and how things are done in the private sector. From a technical perspective, I gained better understanding of best practices for software development. In particular, I learned more about the data science packages contained in Python, and various data science methodologies and frameworks, thereby expanding my knowledge of Python significantly.
How did the internship support your career development?
The internship broadened my professional experience and provided opportunity to develop experiential skills, such that I am more competitive on the job market. As I mentioned before, I have better understanding of organization, development and operations in industry. Consequently, my transition from academia to industry has not been a big culture change. Through this internship, I also formalized my interests in specific areas of data science, and just as importantly, learned about the areas in which I have less interest.
What advice would you give peers on utilizing PhD Plus internships for career development?
The PhD Plus internship program is an incredible resource. The ability to come into a company and learn from professionals is immeasurable in terms of its value for career development. I would also encourage anyone who takes part in this program, or others like it, to be proactive. Don't just talk to the person that you are directly working with. Try to learn from everyone around you and make as many professional connections, as possible.