Overcoming Imposter Syndrome | Paul McLachlan, PhD on The Artists of Data Science Podcast

Some notable segments from the show

[3:57] How Paul became interested in data science

Where to listen to the episode

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, TuneIn, YouTube, or on your favorite podcast platform.

Paul’s journey into data science

Paul was a high school dropout, and one of the few people who has a GED and PhD. What really sparked Paul’s interest in data science was a math class he took during his undergraduate at Columbia. He put off taking this class until his last semester, since he was afraid of making mistakes and getting a poor grade. The teaching assistant in the class helped Paul, meeting with him during office hours and helping Paul gain a deeper understanding of math. This new found foundation excited Paul to delve deeper into statistics.

Where is the field headed in 2–5 years?

What Paul is really excited about is 5G. The connection between 5G and data science might not be very obvious, but the biggest impact will be that 5G reduces latency. This means the lag time for data to be recorded and processed will be significantly reduced.

What will separate great data scientists from the rest of them?

Paul considers the willingness to ask good and difficult questions as the differentiator between the good and the great data scientists. One of the challenges in data science is that data scientists need to have an incredible amount of domain expertise, which requires data scientists to keep on top of the literature, while also being subject matter experts in specific industries.

Key takeaways from the episode

How A.I. can help fight COVID-19

[21:37] I think we can find ways to minimize societal cost using A.I. and data science. There is also the question of being able to develop a vaccine at scale. This means supply chain optimization and manufacturing optimization, all which require data science. The number of ways that data scientists can get involved is limitless, but we need to make sure that the work is embedded in a real stakeholder need.

Extended Reality and Virtual Reality

[27:15] XR (extended reality) and VR (virtual reality) are both areas where research is being conducted to ensure security. For example, making sure the content you see is safe, or that deep fakes are not a major concern. Ethics with this technology is on the forefront of research and development, and it has a lot of implications for the future of how people interact with one another.

Tips for beginners

[32:11] You need to be proactive in your communication with non-technical stakeholders. You need to ensure that you can communicate the importance of your work, and the value that it brings to the organization. You need to be able to explain how your tools work, and what they do for the stakeholders. This requires a lot of experience and practice, but is super critical.

Important soft skills

[35:29] Be humble, be curious. Talk to people who you might not have interacted with before. Ask questions, even if they might sound very basic. Read books, nonfiction and fiction. All of this is a great foundation to build on.

Staying motivated

[44:22] Try to make time in your week to have fun. This can mean different things for different people. For example, I like to learn about other domains that I don’t know much about. This fuels my creativity. Remember, your career is a marathon, not a sprint. You must find ways to have fun to stay motivated and have longevity in your career.

Memorable quotes

The one thing that Paul wants you to learn from his story

[47:13] You don’t know the story of the person who is sitting across from you or sitting next to you. We assume that everyone has had such a straight and linear path of success without any setbacks. That’s just not true. Everyone has setbacks. It is critical to keep in mind that everyone you’re interacting with, from your CEO, to your classmate to your professor, is a human being.

From the lightning round

Data science superpower


Best advice

Speak more slowly.

What motivates you?

Solving puzzles.

Advice to 20 year old self

Careers are marathons, not sprints.

Topic outside of data science we should study

Social sciences.

Recommended book

“Connected” by James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis

Books and other media mentioned in this episode

Amazon Prime show: “The Feed”

Where to find Paul Online


Episode transcript

You are welcome to share the below transcript (up to 500 words) in media articles (e.g., The New York Times, LA Times, The Guardian), on your personal website, in a non-commercial article or blog post (e.g., Medium), and/or on a personal social media account for non-commercial purposes, provided that you include attribution to “The Artists of Data Science” and link back to the https://theartistsofdatascience.fireside.fm/articles URL.

Full episode on YouTube



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The Artists of Data Science

The Artists of Data Science

The ONLY personal development podcast for data scientists.