Interview with Aprajita and Aspram, laureates of the 3M and Dataiku scholarships of the ESSEC "Women in Data Sciences" program


A pioneer among business schools in education in the business of data and artificial intelligence through its Metalab for data, technology and society, ESSEC offers the Master in Data Sciences & Business Analytics (DSBA), a joint program with CentraleSupélec School of Engineering. As part of its strategy to promote diversity and gender parity, ESSEC has also partnered with industry leaders to facilitate the integration of women in its programs, and specifically in the DSBA master, through its "Women in Data Science" initiative. Dataiku and 3M, both involved in this program, award an annual scholarship of €10,000 to a female student for the next 4 academic years (2021-2025).

In this interview, Aprajita Arora (from India), Dataiku’s Women in Data Science Scholarship laureate, and Aspram Grigoryan (from Armenia), winner of the 3M’s Women in Data Science Scholarship, discuss how this scholarship encourages and supports women interested in Data Sciences & Business Analytics, often underrepresented in these sectors. 

Guillaume Chevillon, Professor and Academic Co-director of the ESSEC & Centrale Supélec Masters in Data Sciences & Business Analytics: “Fostering diversity, equity and inclusion is part of our values and our responsibility as a business school which trains future leaders and stakeholders of our society. And the implementation of these two scholarships contributed  to achieving perfect gender parity in the program in the academic year 2021-22, a great satisfaction for ESSEC and CentraleSupélec. We are thrilled to have had these two bright and passionate young women in our schools. ”

 Q: Why did you choose ESSEC & CentraleSupélec master in DSBA over other programs?

Aprajita: I have always been a data enthusiast, but the prospect of understanding how Data Science technologies and platforms are being used to make business decisions was intriguing for me. After thorough research on various courses offered worldwide, I felt that the DSBA master would not only offer the right skill-set to become a leader in the data industry, but would also provide me with an unparalleled international experience and the best industry connections to grow further in my career. I was positive about the academic rigor and opportunities I would get here from the collaboration of two of the most prestigious business and engineering Schools in Europe, which made it much easier for me to choose this program over others. 

Aspram: After  deep research of educational programs that promised to be the best in the field, my choice stopped on the DSBA master program because it combined every possible aspect for a rewarding educational experience for me. I was looking for a program where I could build up on my business background, fill in the necessary building blocks for the theoretically and technically challenging profession of a data scientist. DSBA was a fully hybrid program fusing the best resources from two prestigious schools, a place where I could create a beautiful combination of my background and my growing passion for technology. I expected to get the chance to learn from people who are at the frontier of technology research, and I did get it in the most fun way possible - with people from diverse backgrounds but a shared passion for science.

 Q: How has winning this scholarship benefited you/changed your life?

Aprajita: Being the recipient of the Dataiku’s Women in Data Science Scholarship is what enabled me to come to Paris and pursue my degree in Data Sciences and Business Analytics, and it has definitely been a life-changing experience for me! I have been able to take up opportunities that I didn't know existed a year back - I have gained knowledge, I have learned so much from different experiences, and most importantly, I have gained confidence in my abilities to have  an impact in the world. 

Aspram: The 3M Women in Data Science Scholarship was an essential support to pursue my studies in the DSBA. It made the path to my professional development even smoother and more accessible, and now, in retrospect, I can proudly contemplate  the educational hill I’ve managed to climb over the last year, alongside with other young women in my program with whom I became friends. 

Q: What do you think is the social relevance of these fields, why is it important that there are more women with this expertise?

Aprajita: We are moving towards a world that has been disrupted by AI transformation -  where machine learning algorithms are used in almost every industry and data-driven decisions are accepted as a standard practice. However, there is very little accountability for algorithms being compromised due to male bias! Without a balanced gender ratio, it is almost impossible to produce unbiased results. Thus, it is more important now than ever before to promote women to pursue STEM and Data Science careers. A diverse and equal representation of all genders is the only solution that would provide alternative perspectives while collecting data, training algorithms, and deriving insights, thus mitigating the issue of bias we commonly see these days!

Aspram: Gender equality and equal educational opportunities are basic human rights and must become natural within our societies,they should not even be a matter of discussion. Science, as a strong contributor to innovation and prosperity in the world, cannot afford to lose any talented individual. Providing equal access to women and men in technology helps to widen the prospects of science in general, as well as empowering young scientists among women.

Q: What would you say to other women interested in Data Sciences & Business Analytics, and interested in applying to this scholarship?

Aprajita: I would recommend women to be more verbose and opinionated! Talk about your beliefs and principles, be unapologetic while asking for help to advance in your career, be driven, be motivated, and definitely work towards a cause that excites you. Most importantly, believe that your actions do bring about a change! I have worked in male-dominated teams in academic as well as professional settings and one of the most important lessons for me from the experiences was to not get intimidated! It does not matter that you are the only woman on the table, know that you are there for a reason, and your voice matters!

Aspram: I’d be proud to see my fellow future colleagues who are brave enough to immerse themselves in the world of data science. I’d be happy to share my exciting journey and experience as a scholarship receiver and thus, encourage them to keep taking steps towards their goals regardless of financial obstacles. 

Q: Any idea what you want to do after completing your studies? Do you think that this master increases your chances on the labor market?

Aprajita: I will be working as a Data Engineer - a role that would enable me to utilize my previous work experience as a software engineer combined with the data science and business intelligence knowledge I acquired as a DSBA student. Doing this master's degree has positively impacted my chances of getting a job in the current labor market (despite the recession!). In a period of one year, I have developed skills that have enabled me to apply for roles of data scientist, data engineer, and even business analyst in several industries all across Europe. Being associated with these top universities and having access to the huge alumni network removed several barriers during my job search along the way!

Aspram: The masters laid the foundation for many interdisciplinary subjects. It makes graduates eligible for a wide set of professions ranging from a data visualization specialist to machine learning engineers. Needless to say, acquiring all the cornerstones gives one the skills to learn on their own even after graduation and build up competence in any specialization of their choice. This is why this master has definitely increased my employability and my chances on the labor market.  Moving forward I want to immerse myself in natural language processing applications. The application of computational techniques to the analysis and synthesis of natural language and speech are exciting to me.

 Q: Is there anything you would like to add?

Aprajita: It's been an honor to have received this scholarship and an extremely gratifying journey so far. I would be forever grateful to the people who believed in me and supported me with guidance and advice throughout! I would be more than happy to share my experiences with anyone interested in joining the program or entering the field of Data Science in general.  

Aspram: I am grateful for the chances that this educational experience has granted me. I would be happy to share my experience with anyone interested in the program and I remain at their disposal for further information or any questions they might be pondering about.