A matter of building bridges

Education is all a matter of building bridges--Ralph Ellison

I decided I wanted to be a data analyst so I became a data analyst. There wasn’t any whining or gnashing of teeth—I simply saw a greener pasture and decided to hop the fence.

I had been listening to Vinay Prasad MD, MPH on his podcast, Plenary Session and although these are my words and not his, he was quite keen on lumping all medical writers as rubbish. I had been working as a medical writer for decades and although I got his point—I honestly thought I was exempt. I was one of the good ones bringing the truth in all of its messiness to those that needed to be illuminated. But was I?

Oh the stories I could tell you about shitty editors, corrupt clients, and porn-watching key opinion leaders but that will have to wait until we meet in person. Although I relish these gems, they are best shared in a less paper-traily encounter.

So anyway, one of the last big jobs I did relied on a bunch of data. The topic was something about hematopoietic stem cell transplantation in pediatric patients. I reviewed the analysis and used the results to write the clinical paper. When I noticed large swaths of content deleted from an edit I queried my client. I was told not to worry about the data—it was too technical and we should leave that to the analysts. Except I was well-versed in statistics and noticed a bit of the context being scrubbed to benefit one objective over another. My reply? If I am not intended to rely on the data, what am I writing about?

You learn fairly quickly that writers are often deemed administrative and not valued for their expertise or insight. Sadly, there are many that will work for average wages, tight deadlines, and shoddy objectives. I did not want to be one of them even if my compensation was the highest in the industry at the time.

I enrolled in an online executive education applied analytics course at a well-respected Ivy institution. It was quite a time commitment but I intentionally avoided the Udemy and similar platforms. Often (but not always) the courses are taught by mediocre talent willing to work for what I considered insulting compensation. The old adage is spend money when you make money so I was quite particular about where I was going to make the investment.

Fast forward quite a few years and I continue to master Python, now integrated with geospatial intelligence and learn new tools and applications of my expanded portfolio of skills and expertise. The trick is to stay curious. There is much more to the story—for example, obtaining media credentials allowing access to conferences typically financially out of reach for an independent journalist. Or writing to the White House asking to attend the White House Conference on Aging and not only being granted access but meeting President Obama.

My point is that there is not one way to create a career. Many young graduates struggle with what comes next. I was lucky. My work in social justice and healthcare was the passion that drove me to learn new skills. I know I have privilege. I have a highly functioning cortex, decent level of numeracy, three degrees (two of them post-graduate) and the grace of a few professionals along the way that have encouraged, supported, and hired me to be part of exceptional teams.

I want the same for you. If your curiosity or expertise is geospatial in nature invest in the ESRI User Conference. A personal license costs $100 and will provide access to the conference as well as a suite of ArcGIS products (ArcGIS online, ArcGIS Pro). Most of what I share is open source because I want workshop or conference attendees to have zero barriers to incorporating new skills into their work but in this instance, ESRI was a big part of my initiation into spatial analysis. Once I developed my skills, I was able to rely more on Open Source platforms like QGIS and eventually integrate with Python to expand analytic capabilities. I work in MacOS so am unable to bring ArcGIS Pro into my workflow but I can teach myself how to adapt tasks into an open source environment.

Exploring catchment in areas of flooding—step 1.

Where to connect?

Geospatial Connections is a tidy Clubhouse Group that meets at 1:00 PM ET every or most Wednesdays. We are a group of 5 moderators discussing topics related to geospatial intelligence and inviting you to participate with your insight or questions.

Follow me on twitter where we are thinking of wrapping up ESRI conference days over on Twitter Spaces.