By Saeed Mirshekari

Nov 12, 2023


In recent years, the field of data science has emerged as a critical component in driving decision-making processes across various industries. As businesses increasingly rely on data-driven insights, the role of a data scientist has become pivotal. However, the transition from academia to industry can be a profound experience, filled with surprises, challenges, and valuable learning opportunities. In this blog post, we will delve into a typical day in the life of a data scientist working in industry, exploring the importance of communication with other roles and shedding light on the aspects of the job that may come as a shock to those making the leap from academia.

The Morning Routine

9:00 AM - 10:00 AM: Team Stand-up and Project Planning

The day typically starts with a team stand-up meeting, where data scientists, data engineers, project managers, and other stakeholders gather to discuss ongoing projects. This collaborative environment emphasizes the importance of effective communication and sets the tone for the day. Unlike academia, where projects are often solitary endeavors, industry projects require close coordination among team members with diverse expertise.

During these meetings, data scientists share progress updates, discuss challenges, and align their work with the broader project goals. This early communication ensures that everyone is on the same page and allows for quick adjustments based on feedback from different perspectives.

10:00 AM - 12:00 PM: Data Exploration and Feature Engineering

With the morning meeting concluded, the data scientist dives into the technical aspects of the job. This involves exploring and understanding the dataset, a task that often presents surprises. Unlike academic datasets, which are carefully curated for specific research questions, industry data can be messy, incomplete, and riddled with anomalies. Cleaning and preprocessing data become significant tasks, sometimes requiring collaboration with data engineers to optimize data pipelines.

Feature engineering, a critical step in building robust models, involves creating new features from existing data to enhance model performance. Collaboration with domain experts, often overlooked in academia, becomes essential during this phase to ensure that the engineered features align with the business context.

The Afternoon Grind

12:00 PM - 1:00 PM: Lunch and Informal Collaborations

After a focused morning, data scientists take a break for lunch and engage in informal collaborations. This is an opportunity to discuss ideas, share insights, and build relationships with colleagues from different departments. In academia, the focus is often on individual research, but in industry, cross-functional collaboration is the norm.

1:00 PM - 3:00 PM: Model Building and Evaluation

The afternoon is dedicated to the heart of a data scientist's work โ€“ building and evaluating models. In academia, the emphasis is on theoretical rigor, but in industry, the focus shifts to practical utility. Stakeholder expectations play a significant role, and the model's interpretability becomes crucial. Communicating complex concepts to non-technical stakeholders is a skill that data scientists often need to develop quickly.

Moreover, model deployment, a phase absent in many academic projects, becomes a critical consideration. Working closely with data engineers to integrate models into production systems can be a challenging yet rewarding experience.

3:00 PM - 4:00 PM: Meetings with Stakeholders

In academia, the end users of research findings are often other researchers. However, in industry, stakeholders may include marketing teams, executives, or product managers, each with different priorities and levels of technical understanding. Clear and effective communication becomes paramount in conveying the implications and limitations of the models developed.

Wrapping Up the Day

4:00 PM - 6:00 PM: Documentation and Knowledge Sharing

As the day winds down, data scientists shift their focus to documentation and knowledge sharing. Documenting the entire data science process, from data exploration to model deployment, is crucial for reproducibility and knowledge transfer within the team. This emphasis on documentation is often a departure from the more informal practices common in academia.

Collaboration tools, such as Git and Jupyter notebooks, play a central role in this process, facilitating version control and sharing of code and analyses. In academia, the focus on reproducibility is growing, but industry demands a higher level of rigor and structure in documentation.

Reflections on the Transition from Academia to Industry


1. Collaboration Over Solitude:

In academia, research projects often involve individual efforts. In contrast, industry projects thrive on collaboration, requiring data scientists to work closely with cross-functional teams.

2. Practical Utility Over Theoretical Rigor:

While academic research values theoretical rigor, industry prioritizes practical utility. Models must address real-world problems and align with business objectives.

3. Communication Skills are Key:

Effective communication with diverse stakeholders becomes a top priority in industry. Data scientists must convey complex concepts in a way that is understandable to both technical and non-technical audiences.

Weak Points

1. Navigating Ambiguity:

Industry data is often ambiguous, requiring data scientists to navigate uncertainty and make informed decisions. This can be a significant adjustment for those accustomed to well-defined academic datasets.

2. Time Constraints:

In industry, there is often a sense of urgency to deliver results within specific timelines. This pressure can be challenging for those accustomed to the more flexible timelines of academic research.

3. Balancing Technical Depth with Business Context:

Data scientists must strike a balance between diving into technical details and understanding the broader business context. This dual focus can be challenging for individuals with a predominantly academic background.


1. Impactful Real-world Applications:

Working in industry provides the opportunity to see the direct impact of data science on real-world applications, contributing to business success and innovation.

2. Continuous Learning and Growth:

The dynamic nature of industry projects ensures that data scientists are constantly learning and adapting to new challenges, fostering professional growth.

3. Cross-functional Collaboration:

Collaborating with professionals from various domains broadens perspectives and allows data scientists to integrate their expertise into a more comprehensive business context.


Transitioning from academia to industry as a data scientist is a journey filled with nuances and challenges. The emphasis on collaboration, practical utility, and effective communication can be both eye-opening and demanding. However, the strengths of impactful real-world applications, continuous learning, and cross-functional collaboration make the shift a rewarding experience. By recognizing the differences, weaknesses, and strengths, data scientists can navigate this transition more effectively and contribute meaningfully to the evolving landscape of data science in industry.

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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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