Professional data science: the adventures of less being more.
This will probably form quite the departure from my normal technical writing style focusing on the ins and outs of what has come to be one of the most all-encompassing aspects of my life, but like everything I write it’s a story close to my heart so I think its important to get out there, if it comes across as insipid I apologise.
I am a young professional working out of London in the Data Science sphere alongside my undergrad. I, like many Brits, found most of my outlets outside of work suddenly impeded; London is full of vibrant, verbose people who suddenly in the space of a week in march unable to vent the qualms of life in the ways they please. Since Covid rid the UK public of much of our autonomy of leisure time I found myself becoming more reclusive, chasing academic gains to fill the hole left in my schedules by the absence of hobbies. Ironically, this blog I started was part of that effort.
Slowly as time has gone on, I find myself more knowledgeable: what I have learnt about data science, statistics, AI and a slew of other topics has brought me fascination that I wouldn’t trade for the world. For the first time in my academic career I have felt properly drawn to a new field that I can see myself thriving in for the rest of my life, not only learning information for my own sake but also to help build tangible tools that can make the quality of people’s lives easier.
However, this has come at a cost. I find that as I have devoted more and more of my time into delving into papers, tutorials, blogs and all things academic I find myself feeling just a little bit less fulfilled and by extension that little bit less happy. For every hour I spent studying how to deploy transformers on AWS, I spent an hour less talking to my mum on the phone making sure she was ok. I replaced human interactions with emails, working to land a new job that I was convinced that would finally be the link in the professional bunting that would make me feel accomplished and at peace. The funny thing about the human brain however is it has a tendency to demand more of you no matter the current state- the internship became a job, the job become a company I co-founded and before I knew it I was working 13 hour days just to feel like I wasn’t wasting my time.
This snowball of stress came to a culmination in mid-February; I was banking on a payoff for my efforts in a series of different places that oddly seemed to come all at once- results from university, social events starting to rear their head again and important interview results I was banking on for work come June. In the space of a few weeks I found myself nearly failing required aspects of my degree, being rejected by a slew of ML firms and banks in the final stages, and to top things off in a heated argument with my girlfriend about my neglectful behaviour. Ironically, trying to balance so many plates at once, I ended up dropping nearly all of them. Who would’ve known?
Clearly I was working for the wrong reasons, and since have resolved to become healthier in my habit’s in a few different ways and reprioritise. But in every failure comes a lesson learned, and for anyone who finds themselves in the same place as me I can offer some wisdom I have picked up:
1) Productivity work beats slaving away– your mental health plays a huge role in what you can output, 8 hours of focused work will beat 12 of burnt out slogging every time.
2) Your achievements don’t define you– you can meet every arbitrary standard you set for yourself and still be miserable. No matter what you do and no matter how much, find time for hobbies and outlets or once you get where you wanted you’ll just jump to climb the next mountain.
3) There’s always more time to get it done- don’t be so eager to jump to the next frontier. New is exciting for us, its human nature, but if you don’t stop to enjoy the process the result won’t bring you any more joy.
I hope everyone who reads this is coping well with their work wherever they are, you are loved and will move mountains if you take care of yourself. Safe travels!