Q&A: Zoe Volenec *21, Ph.D. candidate & data scientist

July 30, 2020

Zoe Volenec, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, is starting a full-time role as a data scientist at the Trade Desk, a company specializing in advertising technology this summer. 


Zoe Volenec *21

Zoe Volenec *21

In this Q&A, she talks about her journey finding her role at Trade Desk, the importance of developing a network and how the Center for Career Development helped her along the way.      

Can you briefly describe what you will be doing in the role?

Data science has turned into a rather catch-all term that can range from jobs focused on data analysis to data engineering, which means it’s really important to read data science job descriptions to see where the role falls on this spectrum. In general, data scientists leverage companies’ large datasets to answer pressing business questions and integrate these results into data-focused products. 

The Trade Desk is no different and expects its data scientists to be end-to-end owners of research projects by designing and carrying out analyses for clients. While I haven’t been officially assigned to a team yet, I’ll likely be working in advertising measurement or on similar problems related to connected TV, using The Trade Desk’s large datasets to help brands effectively reach consumers. 

How did you find your position?

Last fall I began to research Notre Dame (my undergraduate institution) and Princeton alumni who had gotten Ph.D.’s then transitioned into data science roles in various fields. I focused on alumni located in the Greater Denver Area, since that’s where I was interested in ending up. I reached out to a few of them and ended up doing an informational interview with an alum who worked at The Trade Desk. 

While I asked a few questions about the company, I was mostly interested in learning  how to apply to data science positions more generally and what the transition had been like for them. They were super helpful and even offered to look over my resume when I was closer to applying to jobs. 

Late spring as I started applying to jobs, I reached out to this alum to look over my resume. They mentioned a data science job was open at The Trade Desk in Boulder, and after I researched the position, I let them know I was interested in applying and they submitted my resume internally. Then a recruiter reached out, and I began the interview process. 

This was definitely not the only job I applied for, though. And to find other jobs I used LinkedIn job alerts with the job titles and cities I was interested in, as well as a job website specifically for Colorado companies.

What advice do you have for current graduate students thinking about their own career development during their time at Princeton?

If you’re like me and are unsure what career path you want to pursue after graduate school, do informational interviews! I used my undergraduate and Princeton networks to find graduate alumni who had jobs I could potentially be interested in. Ask them for 10-15 minutes of their time over the phone or send them a few short questions, more often than not they’ll be happy to help you. And who knows, you may even end up working with them one day! 

In terms of the actual job search and application process, I would say LinkedIn job alerts were incredibly useful, and I even invested in LinkedIn premium for a few months to get insights into job postings. Also, reach out to alumni at the firms you are applying to. This is hands down the most helpful tip I received in my job search. Having someone internally refer you is crucial given the volume of applications companies receive – use LinkedIn to help with this, since they will show you the profiles of alumni at the company associated with a job posting. They don’t necessarily have to have the job title you’re interested in, but they can help connect you with recruiters and also give you insights into the company culture. 

Why did you decide to pursue this opportunity now? 

I'm currently finishing the fourth year of my Ph.D. And while I definitely did not originally plan to defend this fall (my program usually takes five to six years), no one could have anticipated the events of the past few months. 

Over the past year with all my projects going well (and luckily not drastically affected by COVID-19), I thought it might be possible to defend at the end of 2020. I decided to start applying to jobs in May since alumni I had spoken to said it often takes six months to get your first post-Ph.D. job, and with the downturn in the job market due to COVID-19, I wanted to give myself plenty of time. It so happened that I got an offer at one of the first jobs I applied to, and since it was a really good opportunity, I made a final push at the beginning of summer to finish writing my chapters. I submitted my dissertation to my committee a few weeks ago and recently received their approval to schedule my final public oral.

I definitely could not be defending this early without the support of my adviser, committee, and collaborators. It also helped that I had been writing up my chapters for publication along the way, so while I had some writing left to do this summer, it was mostly a lot of editing. 

How was the Center for Career Development helpful for you in your process?

First, I knew fairly early on in my Ph.D. that I did not want to continue along the academic career pathway, but I was not sure what my next step would entail. I started going to Center for Career Development events like Pathways with a Ph.D. in my first years here to see what other job possibilities there were. 

Second, I started meeting with the Center for Career Development graduate student adviser (Susanne, a previous team member) in my third and fourth years once I had begun to seriously consider data science as my next step. She encouraged me to do informational interviews, which in large part helped me get the role I will be starting. 

Lastly, during the actual application and interview process, I met with Gaeun Seo. She was provided crucial insight to help me craft a resume from my C.V. (since academic and industry jobs require very different versions of these). She also helped me prepare for my non-technical interviews and finally talked me through my job offer.