Trust the Process: A Philadelphian’s Perspective

During my first two weeks at the Institute for Advanced Analytics (IAA), I sought academic advice from everyone. I spoke with the faculty, the staff, and many of our alumni. Although each conversation had subtle nuances, one phrase found its way into all of them: trust the process. 

As a Philadelphia native and Joel Embiid superfan, I know all about Trusting the Process. Philadelphia can basically be decomposed into cheesesteaks, Wawa hoagies, Rocky movies, and people who Trust the Process. During the NBA season, some of my group chats average more than two Trust the Process memes per week.

Trust the Process is not, however, a phrase I anticipated regularly hearing from my Raleigh-based graduate school professors. That said, the Master of Science in Analytics (MSA) program at NC State is unlike any experience I’ve had in higher education. Given the accelerated pace at which concepts, projects, and opportunities are flying at us, I want to pause and explain why Trust the Process is unimpeachable advice for MSA students.

I believe that when my MSA instructors, advisors, and predecessors say, Trust the Process, what they mean is:

During your 10-month stay at the Institute, there will be experiences, assignments, and protocols that, from time to time, you will not recognize the value of at first…

Maybe the mere thought of working for a certain industry makes you squeamish, so there’s no justification for making you endure the upcoming networking event…

Maybe assigning a complexity estimate to a task from your team’s backlog seems like a waste of time…

Maybe ongoing communication training feels unnecessary because coding ability is all that matters to employers…

In time, you will recognize the value of all of it. You will understand why our graduates are highly compensated and able to find new work at great companies

Embrace everything the Institute throws at you, especially the things you don’t expect from a masters-level analytics program. 

The things that surprise you the most are going to be what distinguish you from everyone else trying to enter the data science industry.

Surprise #1: The emphasis on personal development

Despite the many evenings I spent combing over the Institute’s website as I prepared my admissions application, I drastically underestimated the emphasis that the Institute places on personal development. I had no idea that less than a month into the program my classmates and I would all go on to complete the following self-assessments: 

  • EQ-i 2.0
  • Clifton Strengths 
  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Kathy Green, the Institute’s Associate Director, hosted lectures for each assessment, teaching us how to understand and get the most out of our results. The faculty and staff at the IAA care not only that we are an eclectic group of individuals, but also that we can identify and speak to the things that make us unique. Due to the early emphasis on self-reflection, initiating vulnerable conversations about strengths, weaknesses, and preferences with new teammates has been, for the most part, pain-free. Having classmates with a high level of self-awareness is invaluable in a program that never slows down.

There’s also an expectation that each student will meet with their personal-development coach throughout the program. The coaching sessions can be used to explore the results of our self-assessments further, to work through disputes we’re experiencing on a team, or to step back and consider everything happening in the program from a new lens. Lastly, at the end of each module, we exchange feedback with all the teammates we worked with during that module. The feedback includes two written components and a 1-5 ranking across 25 behavioral metrics. It’s a lot of data. It’s a lot of meaningful data. It forces us to acknowledge how we show up for our teammates, day in and day out. 

Surprise #2: The train leaves the station very quickly

The Institute wastes no time assembling teams. On the first day of class, I was running around the building, doing a scavenger hunt with a group of three students. I had no idea that those three students would become my first friends in the program; that their success would be tied to my contribution and mine to theirs for the entire summer. Just days after we’d met, we’d be given our first group assignment, and then another and another, and then a few more for good measure.

Unlike conventional academic settings where content builds very gradually, the faculty employ a just-in-time approach to delivering content. We learned how to write a technical report about a day before needing to write our first technical report. We met with our practicum sponsors and discussed the real-world problems we’ll be spending eight months solving for them before having the know-how to actually do that. Likewise, a homework assignment with six parts is often assigned when we only have the skills to complete the first two.

Consequently, agile and deliberate collaboration is essential. If Monique understands categorical variable selection better than the rest of the team, we let her take the lead on that part of the assignment. We also need to allocate additional time to further our understanding so that Monique isn’t solely responsible for the team’s success. Likewise, if I understand time series analysis better than the rest of my team, I need to have the confidence to say something and take the lead.

Surprise #3: We’re an unconventional bunch of folks

A Russian financial analyst, a Canadian oil production engineer, an Indian Systems Engineer, and a golf shop attendant walk into a bar. Specifically, Raleigh Beer Garden. We all had a good time!

Sixty-two percent of the students in the MSA Class of 2023 have undergraduate degrees in fields other than statistics and computer science. Our degrees range from biology to economics, psychology to aerospace engineering, accounting to history, and the list goes on. Ten of my classmates already have an advanced degree. We have decades of combined work experience in sectors such as higher education, financial services, clinical research, and technical recruiting. It’s an unconventional bunch, and that’s largely what makes the MSA experience so rich. 

Sam Hinkie—the analytically-minded general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers from 2013 to 2016—recognized before anyone else that trading away every decent player for draft picks and deliberately tanking is a viable strategy for rebuilding a team. During his tenure, my beloved 76ers went 19-63, 18-64, and 10-72, respectively. It was a long, arduous, and emotional experience for a fan. However, the talent that yielded from that process, The Process, is undeniable. The 76ers are now perennial Champion contenders and one of the most exciting sports teams to watch.

I Trust the Process.

As a Philadelphian, I know that every worthwhile Process involves some chaos. Watching Joel Embiid play for the first time was all it took for the City of Brotherly Love to get on board. When my peers and I start receiving multiple six-figure job offers, when we get to see how the assignments we’ve been completing translate directly into what we do as industry professionals, when we’re advancing in our careers and learning new things every day, we’ll all be chanting Trust the Process. 

Columnist: Kyle Sukley