Transition From UPSC To Data Science: A Personal Account

“It is okay to have a non-linear trajectory as long as you put in much effort into understanding the concepts of data science and how those apply to real-life applications.”
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Last month, the Union Public Service Examination results for civil services were announced. Driven by the motivation to serve the public and a life of power and authority that this profession bestows, lakhs of students appear for this exam. However, the passing rate for UPSC is just 0.2 per cent, making it one of the toughest exams to crack.

This year too, out of 4.8 lakhs students who appeared for the exam, a mere 761 candidates were able to clear it. Congratulations were in order for those who achieved this feat. However, one post by Shruti Pandey, a former UPSC aspirant and currently a data scientist, came as a ray of hope for those who could not make the cut. 

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Analytics India Magazine got in touch with Pandey to understand her journey from preparing for UPSC to transitioning successfully into a data science career.

Of Many Trials & Tribulations

Shruti Pandey, a fairly bright student, decided to pursue engineering soon after finishing her schooling. Her interest in thermodynamics led her to choose mechanical engineering as her specialisation even when her peers were chasing ‘in-demand’ branches like computer science. “Growing up, I did not have a lot of guidance on the career path and opportunities that were available to me. I decided to take mechanical engineering, but I quickly realised that what was being taught was very different from what I wanted to do or learn,” says Pandey.

Nonetheless, she persisted, and by the time she was in her third year, Pandey had landed up an internship opportunity at ExxonMobil. “This was my first interaction with data science. The tool I used was very basic — Microsoft Excel. My project was related to forecasting, and I spent a lot of time learning about the tools and techniques involved,” tells Pandey. The internship had given her an inkling of what data science is and how it can make one’s job much easier. This opportunity gave her the confidence to pursue her final year in building predictive models. Her interest in data science kept growing. But instead of diving heads in the data science field, Pandey began chasing the big grand UPSC dream.

But this did not mean that Pandey completely withdrew from data science. “I was interning part-time with an NGO alongside my UPSC preparation, helping them manage their data. I realised that the system they were using was very outdated. Using the experience with data I had gained during my college work came in handy. I was able to overhaul the entire database and analytics system for them,” tells Pandey.

Meanwhile, Pandey also attempted UPSC twice; in both attempts, she cleared the preliminary round but failed to pass the main examination. “Over time, I also realised that preparing for UPSC also meant consuming and memorising a lot of information which I did not like. A lot of insecurity and fear started setting in. In 2019, I gave my last attempt at UPSC but did not even manage to clear the preliminary round this time. It was like a wake-up call. My friends and well-wishers tried to speak to me about attempting the exam again, but I had already taken a call.” A trip to Mussoorie where she took a long and hard look at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy Of Administration (LBSNAA), the academy for civil servants, gave Pandey the much-needed closure.

Picking Up The Threads

While trying to figure out what she wanted to do next in her life, Pandey picked up a few writing assignments on a contract basis. One of these opportunities was with NASSCOM. Here again, she dabbled a lot with data science-related writing projects. She also started to take courses on data science and coding. “I knew I had to upskill. I did a lot of courses and studied new tools and techniques. All this knowledge helped me earn a proper data science freelance opportunity. My seniors at that organisation were very impressed with my work. Although with these projects and assignments I was earning much less than my peers, the work I was doing gave me immense pleasure.”

“When work started picking up, I decided to pursue a master in data science to give my career a firm foundation. I scored well on the qualifying exams. But when it came to applying for colleges, my insecurities started kicking in again. My career path was not linear. I was scared of what I would put down in my Statement of Purpose for college admissions. I did not have a degree in computer science, nor did I have big companies on my resume. I also thought I might come across as someone who is indecisive. However, my mentor and career guide helped me see a clearer picture. He said that the kind of work I have done (internship, project, and freelance projects) reflected my expertise and interest in the subject,” says Pandey.

Encouraged by her mentor, she applied to a few colleges. “It took me 20 days to write my SOP,” she says. The effort was worth it as Pandey got a call back from one of the top Universities within just a day. 

Wrapping Up

Pandey gave this interview from her room at Duke University, telling us that things get better and it is okay to experiment till you find your right career fit. “My advice to all aspirants is that they must upskill and do a lot of hands-on projects. It is okay to have a non-linear trajectory as long as you put in much effort into understanding the concepts of data science and how those apply to real-life applications,” Pandey concluded.

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Shraddha Goled
I am a technology journalist with AIM. I write stories focused on the AI landscape in India and around the world with a special interest in analysing its long term impact on individuals and societies. Reach out to me at shraddha.goled@analyticsindiamag.com.

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