Julia Seifert shares her passionate journey into the field of data science
Dar es Salaam. Data science is one field that has a vivid gender gap. This is a result of so many different factors including demotivation, lack of support and discouragement of aspiring female scientists, to mention a few. The Citizen Rising woman spoke to Julia Seifert a research advisor at FSDT (Financial Sector Deepening Trust) whose passion for data science has made her garner recognition as one of the best specialists in the field.
Her first trip away from her home village of Zella-Mehlis in Germany was to Northern Uganda – this was prior to moving to Tanzania. In Uganda she did social service as a volunteer with the German Development cooperation in a Vocational training institute. The experience here was filled with so many lessons and so many first-time experiences. For the first time Julia was exposed to religion, something she had not known despite of being born after socialism in Eastern Germany.
Julia eventually returned home to pursue a dual bachelor degree in Arts Cultural Anthropology and study of Religion in Georg-August University Gottingen, Germany, during her undertaking she did exchange semester at the Tumaini University of Iringa, Tanzania. This would not be her first time in Tanzania, before she left for Germany while in Uganda Julia said she had visited Tanzania as a tourist and the language barrier made her miss her returning bus that left at 8 am while she waited for it until 2 pm.
Pursuing of this degree was not something Julia’s father found intriguing but to an extent he understood Julia’s passion and her curiosity to learn more, Julia’s father is a mathematician and knew that Julia was good with sciences and wanted her to do sciences but eventually he understood and supported her. Julia’s father’s encouragement came more strongly because he had also experienced a denial of studying opportunity when he wanted to pursue cartography but it was impossible due to the times then.
Upon her return to Tanzania on a semester exchange, she completed her degree and then proceeded to do her internship in social services at the district. During this time Julia learned in-depth and worked in several areas in the districts including the village.
Julia then got an opportunity to pursue her masters at the University of Kent in the UK where she pursued Masters of Arts in international conflict analysis.
She eventually graduated in 2014 and during her graduation the chancellor of the University gave a speech and encouraged them to apply for an internship position to the Ipsos organization anywhere globally. Julia’s experience in Tanzania made her want to return and she therefore looked up for Ipsos Tanzania, applied and scored an internship with Ipsos which is a research firm in Tanzania.
Julia arrived at Ipsos in Dar es Salaam, worked for 3 months and she said that she had a great experience and welcoming mentors which encouraged her to give her all and fortunately at the end of the 3 months she was invited to come back as an employee. At Ipsos, Julia said she worked as an assistant in data processing and eventually got promoted to become an executive in data processing and this position fully exposed her to fully working with numbers.
Julia continued working as an executive for Data extracting and until she became a Research executive, despite of the change Julia still got involved in data analysis. Julia then moved to FSDT as a research advisor and on this she says, “The work I do at FSDT makes me feel fulfilled because my work is very impactful and it allows for a collaborative partnership. At FSDT we use data to advise in different sectors, what I really like is that we use evidence for any advice we give”.
Regarding data Julia says, “Data itself is not useful or informative, once you have data you have to be able to analyze and tell a story so you can link it with a realty. Tanzania is so rich in Data, but we want to be able to provide the information from the data. Data-insight and information. To be able to analyze data one has to be keen at the sector they work in, listen to the people and generate evidence”.
About women and science, Julia highlighted the Women in Science event that usually takes place on 11th February, worldwide and that Tanzania recognizes and celebrates as well. Julia says these engagements are key, because aspiring young female scientists get to watch and hear from their role models and also have an opportunity to engage in science and test it out. She emphasizes that women should be involved in the data sector to weed out the underlying biasness.
She advices women to get into data science because this sector boosts confidence. She says, “Most people assume and dismiss women claiming they speak emotionally but if women hold facts in form of data, they will have proof to back up their words”.
On trusting her abilities in the field, she says; “I have never for a second doubted myself in this field, if you always believe in yourself regardless of who you are eventually you become successful. It is easier for a person especially a woman to get frustrated in the things we do but the most important part is for one to Focus on what they do and aim to separate professional life with personal life”.
As she continues with the discussion Julia points out that data science is not always a smooth ride, challenges come especially during data communication: Julia says, “People have personal perception and sometimes during communication it can go against one’s perception and assumptions. This is a challenge faced by most data scientists but a well-built argument which is solid, assuring and valid with no doubts surrounding it alters this”. To avoid challenges Julia adds that in this field it is so important for one to be keen on how the information is delivered so that the point is heard, this goes hand in hand with team work, it is important to work in a team and discuss with colleagues.
Julia says her best achievement is to be able to contribute in both the private and public sector with impactful facts and this was made possible with her great supervisors, “I have male and female supervisors who are very instrumental to my achievement and if I did not have this support system I would not have achieved much of what I have and still are achieving. It is very important for one to have mentors and seniors who can support them,” she adds.
Apart from work Julia says she feels at home in Dar Es Salaam and in Tanzania. Overtime she has gained friends through colleagues who have turned to be family. Also, through social groups Julia has expanded her network, she says, learning Swahili has been a key catalyst to the expansion of her network and it comes in handy for her work.
She ends the interview by saying, “Data Scientists and analysts fail to connect with reality because people tend to forget there is life to be lived. People fail to integrate well socially, focus is great but people need to choose other activities to dwell into so that they can expand their soft skills, knowledge and network”.