By Saeed Mirshekari

May 13, 2022

Following is an interview with me on MentorCruise about my story as a Data Science mentor.

Why did you decide to become a mentor?

It started small and I had no idea why I was doing what I was doing, but over time I realized I enjoy that a lot. I also learned that being a mentor is a great way to spend my time. So, I decided to continue that!

During any mentorship, there is also a lot of learning for me. Every case is different and every mentee comes in with a unique story, a unique skillset, and a unique set of goals and timelines. It’s fun, interesting, and challenging for me to work with various cases as a mentor.

By being a mentor, I directly help people who need my help and my experience. And that creates joy and satisfaction inside me while I create immediate values for my mentees. I love doing this!

Who should reach out to you?

My broad range of experience in both academia and industry gives me the opportunity to work with a broad range of people in different stages of their career journey with different goals.

However, I recently discovered that most of my current and previous clients who reached out to me are either new to the tech job market in the US (from other countries) or new in the field of Data Science and Machine Learning (from other technical backgrounds), many of them both: new to the field AND new to the job market!

As an immigrant and a former physicist in academia turned into a Data Scientist in industry, I understand the challenges and know many of the obstacles and working solutions on the way that come with these big life changes. Been there, done that!

If you are new to the US tech job market or new to the field of Data Science, feel free to reach out to me. In fact, a lot of people think about these moves but never take action. If you are thinking about these, let me talk to you.

I will be delighted to chat with you and learn more about your background and goals. Let's schedule a 30-minutes 1on1 now.

How did you get your career start?

Since I was a kid, I’ve always been passionate about how things work in this universe. I chose Math & Physics in high school and continued that path all the way to a PhD in Physics under the supervision of the top gurus of the field.

Immediately after my PhD, I joined the Data Analysis team of LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) and contributed to the first-ever detection of the Gravitation Waves. The LIGO founders, later, won the Nobel Prize in Physics (2017) for this discovery.

At that time and point of my career, I paused and looked around. What is next for me? Back in 2014, I was a post-doc at LIGO and I wanted to put my skillset in use for even bigger impacts.

My research pointed me to the direction of Data Science in industry where I could unleash my passion and curiosity to explore more and solve more impactful problems with the skillsets I’d developed through years of working with numbers and people.

I still work with people and numbers every day!

What was your experience with mentors as you grew in your career?

Mentors have always played a crucial role as I grew in my career. Mentorship has come to me in many different forms from direct supervisor-student type of mentorship all the way to an "anonymous" type of mentorship in which my mentors did not even realize they were playing a mentor-role in my journey. I just watched them over a certain period and I learned from them, and sometimes actually a lot!

I believe the two pillars of any successful mentorship are: (1) the willing of the mentee and (2) the visibility/availability of the mentor. There are much more into a mentorship relationship but these two are crucial and the rest can be figured out.

But without either of these two, no mentorship can be sustained. There is no force in the world that can teach you anything if you are not truly open to learn and willing to change. On the other hand, if a mentor is not making her/himself and her/his story visible and available, there is not much to catch.

I was fortunate to have direct mentors like Clifford Will in my life. I was a fresh master’s student in the Physics Department of the University of Tehran that I found Cliff's website online and was absolutely impressed by the work he had done in the field of my interest through his career. So, I wanted to know more about him and I did the effort.

I still remember I looked for and eventually found and purchased a Farsi-translated version of his famous book [title: Was Einstein Right?] in Tehran (2007) before even knowing that I would start a PhD program in his research group a year after. That little effort eventually opened up a lot of hidden doors to big opportunities in my future life.

Saeed on a road trip sitting on the edge of his universe trying to see Seven States on Lookup Mountain, Chattanooga, TN 2015 [photo credit: Masoud A.]

How do you usually set up mentorships?

Mentorship is like going on a relatively long road-trip with your buddy who has done this trip in the past. I’m that buddy of yours in this road trip! And I will guide you through the best routes I know of and, equally importantly, I will try to stop you from taking dead-end routes.

In order to enjoy this trip, we both need to know where we are starting (your current skillset) and where we are heading to (your goals). I will set up an introductory meeting for each of my mentees at the beginning just to understand these. I also ask about any timelines they might have. Some people need to be back home in a day and some are open to explore more places!

After that, we are in this journey together to take you from point A to point B. As my mentee, you will quickly realize that I am not your driver, but I am absolutely willing to drive when you can’t. I will show you around from what I know and I am willing to discover what is unknown to both of us too. I can get super technical or stay high-level. I will adjust our speed with your pace. At the end of the day, this is YOUR journey!

How important is setting short- and long-term goals for your mentorships?

Both are quite important! Long-term goals take us far in a certain direction, and short-term goals keep us moving daily in our mentorship road-trip.

Again, metaphorically speaking, I see a mentorship as getting into a relatively long road-trip with your best buddy who has done this trip in the past. Setting up long-term goals is like knowing where your final destination is and setting up short-term goals is like knowing where you'll stay tonight!

Without setting up long-term goals, you can hardly go any far in long term into any certain direction because you have no final destination set up at the beginning. In this scenario, every day is a new trip for you and you can go any direction every morning! On the other hand, with no short-term goals, many days you may find yourself not moving at all because you may feel too comfortable in where you are today and want to procrastinate.

What are you getting out of being a mentor?

Every mentorship road-trip is unique and the mentees have their own unique stories! The learning is not always for the mentee, but for the mentor too. I learned a lot of new things (technical and non-technical) just by being on a new road-trip every time.

I start every mentorship with a fresh and open mind, and willing to enjoy and learn new things through our journey. This mindset has helped me a lot in my career. The skillset you would develop as a mentor is quite broad from detailed technical-skills to generic people-skills that are unique every time.

At the end of the day, mentorship is like a two-person road trip! There are learnings for both in each trip.

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About O'Fallon Labs

In O'Fallon Labs we help recent graduates and professionals to get started and thrive in their Data Science careers via 1:1 mentoring and more.

Saeed Mirshekari, PhD

Saeed is currently a Director of Data Science in Mastercard and the Founder & Director of O'Fallon Labs LLC. He is a former research scholar at LIGO team (Physics Nobel Prize of 2017). Learn more about Saeed...

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