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Jesse Wood Ph.D.

Jesse Wood Ph.D.

I'm a former neuroscientist. Now I'm a data scientist working in city government and focusing on projects related to social justice and equity.

Data Scientist
City of Pittsburgh

Job Categories covered by Jesse

Sessions covered by this panelists/speakers

29

Guided Informational Interviews - Data Science

About this Panelists/Speakers

For 13 years, as a graduate student and then as a postdoc, I worked at the intersection of behavioral and computational neuroscience. I did a bunch of really cool things! I focused on understanding how the dopamine system encodes information to process rewards and helps us organize a string of actions into a cohesive sequence. I got to watch and listen to the conversations between neurons and then decode those messages. I manipulated gene expression to change behavior and neural activity. I even used lasers to make neurons fire when I wanted them to. Neuroscience is pretty cool and I was lucky enough to do some really interesting work on important problems.

Science (the discipline) is a beautiful thing. It makes the world a better place and I got to play a small role in the march of progress. I'm grateful for that.

Science (the profession) is miserable. I struggled for grants, struggled against reviewers to get published, struggled for limited resources, struggled to have a work-life balance, struggled to not feel guilty if I took a vacation, and struggled to exist in a system that ultimately didn't want me. It's probably more correct to say that the academic and scientific systems that I was a part of didn't want anyone in particular. Those systems are designed to do one thing: force out anyone who doesn't have a good deal of luck and doesn't put their career above everything else. A more senior neuroscientist gave me a bit of perspective on this one time. She said, "You eat what you kill." At the time I laughed. Now I cringe.

A little over a year ago, I decided that I didn't want to struggle to make a living anymore. Six months after that I was in a new job. When I was learning to decode all those conversations between neurons I picked up some very marketable skills. I learned a lot about digital signal processing, analytical thinking, statistical analysis, machine learning, and how to code in multiple languages. I realized two things; I really enjoyed data analysis much more than neuroscience and I could translate these skills into a career as a data scientist.

Now I work as a data scientist at the city of Pittsburgh. I had no idea that I would ever work in government, but I’m so thankful that I do. I get to work on issues that I care deeply about. And I also don’t feel bad if I take a day off.

Leaving academia and science was a good choice. It was hard (even though it didn’t have to be as hard as it was) and it was scary (it shouldn’t have been scary at all). In hindsight, I realize that one mistake I made, an all too common mistake, was staying in academia well after I realized I was unhappy. If you’re a part of this event I’m betting you also realize that academia isn’t right for you. I’d encourage anyone who is having second thoughts about a career in the Ivory Tower to realize that there is a much more fulfilling path out there. If I can help you find it just let me know.