After graduating from UChicago with a B.A. in Economics , Richard has been developing his expertise in data analysis and business operations. While advising the head of the tax agency of his home country, the Dominican Republic, on public policy issues, he finished a MA in Business Intelligence and Big Data from the EOI in Spain. He previously was the second employee in charge of user acquisition at Beepi – a Silicon Valley startup once valued at $2 Billion - and the eighth ops employee at Hostwise. Richard loves scuba diving, dancing and the outdoors.
3 ways to leverage your startup experience to get into a graduate program
Rico Pichardo, BA - UChicago
Being part of an early stage startup can incredibly challenging and enriching professional experience. To build a new business requires grit, risk-taking ability, leadership and creativity, qualities that admissions counselors value. You got to wear many hats and have gained unique insights and knowledge that you can bring into a classroom. That said, just because you were part of a startup, does not mean you have a silver bullet into the graduate program of your dreams. The way you craft your story and the experiences that you highlight as part of your startup journey will determine the impact that it will have on your admission process. Here are three ways you can make sure your startup story makes you a stronger candidate:
1. Focus on your most relevant tasks
When you are part of a startup, there are almost always many things to be done and not enough time. During my time at Beepi, an online used car marketplace, I participated in projects related to human resources, marketing, sales, operations and customer service. When I decided to apply to graduate programs in data analytics, I did not talk about all of my different roles, but about the intelligence reports I ran, how I built them and how they guided my decisions, because this was most relevant to the Big Data masters program I was targeting.
2. Highlight specific opportunities where the knowledge you will gain in the program will impact your job performance.
Applying to graduate school requires not only proving you are capable of handling the coursework but that the specific program you are applying for is exactly what you need to take your career to the next level. One of the best ways to do that is by giving concrete examples of a time where the expertise you want to gain would have empowered you to bring more value to your startup. For instance, if you are applying for a masters in artificial intelligence, mention how you could have implemented a specific machine learning algorithm to automate and optimize a particular process in your startup.
3. Align the organizational mission of the master program you are going for with the vision and goals that drove your decision to be at that startup.
When you join an early stage startup, you are taking a risk. You are forgoing structure and a steady paycheck for the opportunity to exponentially increase your career growth, your wealth and to change the status quo of a particular industry. This then creates a strong parallelism with the mission of graduate schools to build leaders in their particular fields. Your startup experience gives strong indication that you are already a leader. Let them see it. Align the way you communicate your personal qualifications – skills, life purpose, values, personality…- with the culture that drives the university program. For instance, the UCLA Anderson School of Management states that its mission is “to transform management thinking and prepare future leaders …for lives of significance.” You can then highlight your experience at a startup on the way the company was looking to transform the lives people by adding value to them.
I studied Economics in college out of a love for public policy and mathematics. During my years in high school, my passion for solving math problems motivated me to take extracurricular classes to increase my skills. Thanks to this training, I represented the Dominican Republic in the Iberoamerican Math Olympics and decided to follow a career path where I could continue to practice this mathematical mindset. At the same time, I was the president of the Human Development Clubs, an initiative from the United Nations Development Programme to promote the concept of human developments among high school students. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking in fronts of tens of students motivating them to pursue a social conscious life. This was also something that I wanted to include in my career. When it was the time to choose my major, I wanted to blend my passion for mathematics with my love for social impact. Economics was the way to do just that, and as such, I decided to apply to the University of Chicago, leader in economic thought that had significantly helped shaped Latin American economic policies in the last century.
After graduating from college, I came to the conclusion that the best way to make a lasting social change was through socially conscious businesses- like Dyad. I moved to Silicon Valley and joined as the second employee of Beepi, a peer to peer marketplace for used cars, that at its maximum point vas valued at $2 Billion. As the person in charge of user acquisition, I was consistently looking at our data to improve our processes. This is when I realized that the power of business intelligence to inform and influence decision making. I then decided to take a masters program on Big Data to break through the limitations of my current programming and statistical analysis skills. I have had ideas on how to improve and automate processes at previous jobs, but I did not have the technical fluency needed to implement them. In my previous job as an analyst in the Dominican equivalent of the IRS, there exists a wealth of data that I could be used for public benefit as part of my research efforts. By pursuing the master program in Big Data and Business Intelligence, I have become a data-driven processes builder, improver, and decision-maker.
- Masters in Big Data and Business Intelligence:
- Learn how to program in R or Python
- Get exposure to Big Data technologies and play around with machine learning models
- Find an open data set like this one , upload it a SQL server and do analysis of it preferably with R or Python but feel free to use excel as well
- Switching to a major in Economics:
- Make sure you have a strong background and interest in mathematics and statistics
- Fulfill your Econometrics requirement and make sure you pay attention in that class
- Take a class in public policy and business so you can start identifying what aspect of Economics you would like to focus on
- For Economics:
- Caltech Economics and Calculus
- MIT Microeconomics
- N. Gregory Mankiw, Principles of Economics, 6th or 7th Ed
- Marshall Jevons,, The Fatal Equilibrium Charles Wheelan, Naked Economics (Revised Edition)
- For Big Data and Business Intelligence
- Four types of analytics
- BigML Demo
- Data-mining: the new gold mine
- Eric Siegel answers eight questions about predictive analytics
- Six types of analyses every data scientist should know
- Machine Learning
- Ralph Kimball, The Data Warehouse Toolkit, 3rd Edition. Willey (2013)
Showcase technical proficiency and experience the field of your interest. Admission Officers want to see that not only are you capable of handling the kind of work you will be doing, but that you know what it is about.
Make a strong case on why your career will get to the next level if you go that specific university and to that specific program. Admission Officers need to understand the impact that admitting you will have in your life and that your decision was based on extensive research, instead of the school’s reputation or visible merits.
Tell a story, not just state your resume. Go to the program’s website and read about the mission and vision of the program as well as the kind of people they are looking for. From your many strengths, choose the ones that speak directly to the values of the department and particularly, the program. From there on, tell your personal story based around the strengths you choose to highlight.
Not using specific examples. Just stating that you are passionate about a topic or a university without saying why will not add any value to your application. In fact, it might hurt your application because if it indicates you have not done enough research on the program.
Saying too much about your personal life. Remember to build your essay around your core strengths and make sure that everything adds value to your profile as a student. Talking in detail about impactful events in your life might not necessarily contribute to your capacity as a graduate student of the program of your choice.
When I was applying for college, I decided to apply to the University of Chicago, due to the school’s reputation in Economics. During the 1970s and 1980s, the “Chicago Boys” were a group of Chilean economists trained at the Department of Economics of the University of Chicago. After being accepted, I was still not sure because I was looking for a holistic experience where not only my mind would thrive, but where I could learn practical skills and I could also grow socially. I was also admitted to London School of Economics, Bentley University with a full scholarship, University of Miami and American University, the school’s reputation for being the place where fun goes to die scared me. As a result, I decided to visit as a prospective student. That night in the college was enough to make me fall in love with it. It confirmed the school’s intellectual rigor, but also allowed me see to the diversity and the undervalued, engaging and active sports and social life available.
In regards to my Masters degree, I had really specific needs for the kind of program I was willing to pursue at the time. It needed to be on data science, economically viable, lasting only one year and with enough flexibility so that I could continue working for the Dominican version of IRS. Based on the economic costs of data analytics programs in the United States, I decided to focus on European universities which tend to be cheaper. I was then accepted into the Escuela de Organizacion Industrial(EOI) based in Spain. I then looked into my funding options, and noticed that EOI had a scholarship agreement with the Ministry of Higher Education of the Dominican Republic. I then applied for a scholarship and got it. None of the universities offered to cover the same level of expenses as that scholarship and they required me to enroll full time. As result, so I decided to accept my invitation to join EOI’s Master in Business Intelligence and Big Data, and continue my job reforming the Dominican tax system.
With a Master in Big Data and Business Intelligence, you also have a considerable amount of choices depending on what you want to focus on. There are four main areas: Data Scientist, Data Analyst, Data Engineer and Business Analyst.
UChicago campus culture is focused on what the university has coined as “the life of the mind”. Its smart, quirky, international and diverse student community guarantes an intellectual experience at all times, including social events. The school has a reputation for being the place where “fun goes to die” but that is not true. It us easy to find social events organized by student organizations –unless it was finals or midterm week – and there was always people willing to have celebrate and have fun with you. In the rare cases where the options on campus were limited, the whole city of Chicago was at your reach.
The only thing I would change is the lacking university spirit. When I visited my friends in other universities like Pomona College and Northwestern, I first noticed the considerably larger amount of branded merchandise and apparel worn by the students and spread out around campus. I was surprised by the capacity of sport and academic events to summon students who displayed fierce proudness of their school.