Amber Teng is a first year student with the CDS MS Program and the author of the book “The Data Resource: How Emerging Countries Can Thrive in a Changing Landscape”. We spoke with Yash about admissions, life at CDS, living in NYC and much more.
You can find The “Data Resource: How Emerging Countries Can Thrive in a Changing Landscape” available on Amazon.
December 3, 2019 | 21:44
Tim Baker (host) [0:00] Welcome to the Center for Data Science Admissions Podcast. I’m your host, Tim Baker. And this week I’ll be speaking with first year master student, Amber Tang.
Amber Teng [0:12] I’m a first year student at CDS. My current track is NLP and before coming to CDS, I used to work in risk and finance. But I majored in economics and archaeology.
Tim Baker [0:24] Okay, excellent. And so was this your first time applying this year?
Amber Teng [0:29] Yeah, to CDS it was my first time.
Tim Baker [0:32] So if you could give your feelings about the application process. Like what did you think of it when you were going through the process?
Amber Teng [0:40] I actually really liked applying to CDS because I thought that the kinds of questions that they asked on the essay were very academically stimulating. It made me think about whether or not I actually wanted to do data science, what I wanted to do with with a degree, and where I wanted it to lead me, and why this time in my life was like the best time to do it. So in terms of the application, for me it was like a couple of parts. First I had to take the GRE, which is like the standardized testing that you have to take to apply to grad school. Then I got recommendation forms from my professor. So my thesis professor gave me one and also my manager at the company I was working at before coming to CDS. And then I did the essay portion.
Tim Baker [1:33] And when you were getting your letters, how did you go about reaching out to people?
Amber Teng [1:37] For me it wasn’t too difficult because my professors were absolutely amazing, like I had a very close relationship with them in college. Even after college, my thesis advisor and I stayed in touch so asking him to write a referral or a recommendation letter for me wasn’t that difficult. He knew me very well, because I took like two classes with him. And he, you know, he advised me during my undergrad years as well. In terms of asking my manager, I think that was a bit trickier just because if you’re working at a company, they don’t necessarily expect you to be applying to grad school. But they were very supportive because the team I was working on was focused on risk analytics. So we were dealing mostly with fraud identification, like identifying fraudsters and bad guys in banks, basically. So he knew that the degree was related to my job. So he was also pretty supportive about that.
Tim Baker [2:38] Excellent. So you once you were admitted to CDS, you came directly from industry. How did you find transitioning back into academia, and this is actually fresh. You’re a month in. So how is that?
Amber Teng [2:58] So we actually have our third problem-set this week and I have like three things due today. So that’s a very relevant question. I think it is definitely a big shift especially if you haven’t done problem-sets before. And as I mentioned earlier, I come from a non-traditional background in the sense that I wasn’t like stem heavy – we didn’t do a lot of math proofs undergrad, I was more applied. I also did a lot of papers and essay writing as an undergrad, but we didn’t do as many problem-sets. So there’s a learning curve to it. But I think what I like about CDS is that they provide a lot of support so aside from just being able to work with my peers and my classmates on thinking through questions, and understanding how to go about solving them, I think what has also been really helpful are the office hours our professors have for each class as well as the teacher assistants… It’s super helpful to be able to just get a feel if you’re thinking in the right direction and going the right way about these things. The other thing that I would say is that for me time management has been key to getting my problem-sets done. I feel like coming from industry, you know you either have a nine-to-five or you work very specific hours for for the most part. And being at CDS, where I take like three classes per semester and the rest of the time is yours, structuring that time is really key.
Tim Baker [4:31] Do you find that you spend a lot of time at the CDS center?
Amber Teng [4:35] I do. Firstly, I live very nearby. I live about 20 minutes walking. So I’m probably here every day, aside from going to class. I just like the space, it’s very bright and then you know, free printing is great. And seeing everyone is just like really nice. I really like the people here as CDS and also just being able to collaborate with people who are working on the same questions as you are like in the open spaces is super helpful.
Tim Baker [5:00] Excellent. And so, since you mentioned living nearby, did you live in New York before you started the program?
Amber Teng [5:10] No, this is my first time living here for sure.
Tim Baker [5:12] So coming to a city like New York, how was your housing actually? How did that work out for you?
Amber Teng [5:21] So I think there’s a couple things. So as an international student, I think finding a good roommate was kind of hard. Well, not hard, but it’s like key because usually if you’re International, I think a lot of people ask for your credit score. And if you’re just coming like fresh from abroad, typically you wouldn’t have a credit score tied to your SSN because you wouldn’t have an SSN, right. So that was one of the biggest things for me when I was like initially moving. But I think, you know, different landlords offer different kind of lease options. One thing that I had to adjust to when moving to New York was that it seems like you need a broker to kind of find housing here, which is different from all the other cities that I’ve lived in. Because I’ve just like either contacted the apartment or just lived on campus and things like that. So that was also a shift. I think in terms of like the housing search, what was really helpful for me was being on the CDS like Facebook group and LinkedIn group, and trying to find other people who were looking for housing at the same time as I was.
Tim Baker [6:31] Yeah so just a hint for your next apartment, you won’t probably won’t need the broker. Once you’re here, it’s easier.
Amber Teng [6:40] Yeah because I was trying to get an apartment here while I was in a different state. And I’d never searched for apartments here before. And like a really important thing I think is like visiting the apartments in person, because they’re totally different from how they look online.
Tim Baker [6:57]
It’s funny, you’re the second person that said that.
Amber Teng [6:58]
Yeah they’re totally different.
Tim Baker [7:02]
So do you have any advice for students who are coming here for the first time, in terms of adjusting to New York City?
Amber Teng [7:15] Yeah, a couple of things. I think as an international student, for me, the biggest thing was really being open to new opportunities and being kind of ready and willing to meet other people. New York is definitely very culturally different from where I’m from, which is the Philippines. So I think having that open mindedness and that kind of like excitement, just to start something new and having that motivation to connect with and learn from other people and to hear from their experiences has really helped me grow a lot in the city. And the other thing which is more like minor but if you’re into food, I would look up food before you get here because there’s so many options. Like I have a bucket list of restaurants to go to.
Tim Baker [8:01] Excellent. And at CDS too.
Amber Teng [8:05] Yeah like I’m wondering what the food is later. So I’m excited. We have the interview panel. There are just so many events here.
Time Baker [8:14] Yeah there are a lot of events. So I mean, speaking of CDS, what is life like for CDS MS Student?
Amber Teng [8:21] Yeah, so I’m in my first year, first semester and life is pretty great honestly. For me, it consists of going to class, going to lab, getting involved on campus, and then connecting with my classmates and also finding other ways to get involved with the larger NYU community aside from CDS. CDS is amazing, but outside CDS, there’s also a lot of cool groups on NYU, which are like awesome to get involved with. I only have class twice a week. So the current classes I’m taking our Intro to Statistics and then Intro to Programming and then Intro to Data Science. I think they all actually have different titles, more formal titles, but those are basically what they are. Yeah, so for me, going to class is probably the biggest chunk of my time as an MS student compared to undergrad, I feel like when I was in undergrad, I spent half my time doing extracurriculars and half of my time doing classes, but now I think I spend 70% of my time doing classes and problem sets and things related to class and 30% doing other things, right. So in terms of the other things that I do… I’m involved with CDS leadership circle, which is a great thing to get involved in if you do decide to come to NYU (which you totally should 110%). And then I’m also involved with other groups like Women in Computing and CS for Social Good. So I think that’s awesome to really get involved and because they do a lot of things tied to data science. And I’m currently on the hunt for kind of like research opportunities. There are a lot of professionals who do cool research projects, which they’re very open to students joining. And you know, not only do you get to learn from and work with professors who are very distinguished in their field, you also have the opportunity to maybe get published if that’s something you’re interested in.
Tim Baker [10:20] Okay. So you mentioned you’re involved in the leadership circle so tell me about what the social environment like at CDS.
Amber Teng [10:29] Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s one of the most refreshing social environments I’ve been in, just because you’re with a group of people who all care about the same thing, who all want to get to the same industry, and who all are really concerned about the same issues right. So CDS Leadership Circle is just a really fun time, like they’re all these people who love data science on the one hand, but they’re also really fun. Like, you guys kind of come from similar social/cultural backgrounds and in a sense you get the same jokes, you get the same memes, you know, you can relate at that level. And everyone is really friendly. I think for all of the people I’ve met here, they all really want to help you succeed. My professors really take time out of their schedule to help me understand my lessons. And my TA literally set aside separate office hours. Like if you can’t make it to office hours, they make time to help you understand your classes. And just like the friends I’ve met here, they’re really fun to go out with…we go out and hang out and stuff. CDs leadership circle, I think has been super helpful in doing that because we organize social events for the CDS students to kind of get to know each other better and bond with each other in spaces that don’t necessarily like relate to homework. So it’s always fun to get to know people outside of academics as well. Everyone comes from an interesting and unique background and kind of hearing their thoughts is motivating.
Tim Baker [11:59] So you’d mentioned being an international student. Do you find that you know, it’s difficult to adjust as an international student at CDS?
Amber Teng [12:10] I’ve been an international student for a while. So my experience might be a bit different because I started my undergrad as an international students. I’ve been here for maybe four or five years. So it wasn’t that big of a shift but what I really like that CDS does is they work a lot with the Office of Global Affairs and make sure that you know all the international kids here are kind of looped in on the events they have. Like I think today they have like a Boba Friday or something like that. It’s like they’re going out to get boba as a group to get to know everybody and I think the boba is free. So that’s always good. Yeah it’s just really nice because CDS is so diverse and the people/the community here are really welcoming. They’re really open and they really make an effort to ensure that you have everything you need as an international student, everything from visa to paperwork to culture, like understanding like the culture here and NYU and NYC at large. Like, I feel like I’ve gotten support like every step of the way. So it hasn’t been too difficult. Like there are a couple of things that I had to adjust to when I moved here like, especially living in New York.. I feel like in New York some of the kind of colloquial terms are different… you know, just like little things like that like that I didn’t know before, but people are nice enough to explain.
Tim Baker [13:43] We’re very strong with our slang in New York City.
Amber Teng [13:45] Yeah, just like what is like the slang here? Like the first time somebody said ‘sick’ to me. I thought they actually meant like a fever.
Tim Baker [13:54] Yeah. So has anybody dropped ‘dope’ yet?
Amber Teng [13:57] I mean, so I think I understand that. I’ve been here awhile, but like other random stuff like… Houston street is pronounced ‘HYOO-stən’ not Houston. AndI just like why it’s spelled the same way? So like little random things like that that throw me off occasionally but for the most part it’s been like a pretty easy transition.
Tim Baker [14:19] So did you have to go through the visa process?
Amber Teng 14:21 Oh, I did. Yeah.
Tim Baker 14:23 Do you have any advice for international students that are coming here for the first time that are going to have to go through the visa process?
Amber Teng [14:28] Yeah, I think in terms of the visa process, just make sure you know all your deadlines. You know, you don’t want to not be able to attend school because you missed a deadline or you didn’t submit your paperwork. I think if you’re switching from one visa status to the other, make sure you do have an open and constant conversation with your Office of Global Services advisors as well as your like academic advisors so they know what’s going on. If you’re transferring from one school to another, it’s also really important to make sure that your date that you’re shifting your i-20, from your old school to your new school is a set date. Like you have to make sure it’s a good date on both sides and that it doesn’t kind of compromise your status in the US at all. If you’re switching from OPT back to F1… like a lot of these are like case by case basis. But so I would just stay in close contact with your advisors and make sure you don’t forget the deadlines. Make sure you get all your signatures, your travel signatures and get your visa stamped when you need to.
Tim Baker [15:42] So I think we’ve covered a lot of ground. Let’s wrap this up with a couple of final questions. So why did you choose CDS?
Amber Teng [15:52] I think for me when I was looking at grad schools and thinking about this next space in my life… I come from a non-traditional background in many ways like academically, culturally… I think CDs provides such a unique mix of both like academic and industry expertise and a community of people who I feel like really care about you. There’s literally no other university I would rather do my masters in and aside from NYU CDS, I really love reading the work of the professors here, especially Professor Sperling who I’m so lucky because he’s like my advisor, like, you know, (jackpot). I was following him on Twitter way before I came to CDS. And also CDS is one of the very first data science programs ever, and being pioneered by Yann LeCun and having our professors who work in industry at companies that make an impact, like a global impact on different parts of society is really cool. And just like being able to hear from experts in the field who really want you to grow, who really care about you, and who really want to broaden, to build. And I think CDS’ commitment to diversity in many senses, like not just like diversity in terms of like, your background, but diversity and what you want to contribute to the field is… I really kind of like empathize with it and it really inspires me, motivates me, and makes me want to be a better data scientist.
Tim Baker [17:33] Awesome. Speaking of reading people’s stuff, I understand you have a book of your own.
Amber Teng [17:41] Thank you. Yeah so if you guys are interested in data science and emerging markets, as Tim said, I recently published a book called the Data Resource. And it’s kind of a years work, like research and interviews and anecdotes, and just trying to learn about the impact of data science and other kind of like pockets of the world and where it can make the most you know, positive change.
Tim Baker [18:13] Awesome. So think back to when you were applying, what is the information you know now that you wish you knew that?
Amber Teng [18:23] Good question. I think when I was applying one thing that I wish I knew more about were the different tracks. Different schools have different types of application processes and also like different tracks and I think they’re also different classes to prepare for each track, right. And some of them you can place out of and some of them you can’t. So what I kind of wish I did beforehand was prepare more for the costs that I’m taking now. Like, I wish I had planned my classes earlier and understood the tracks in more detail. I only really found out in more detail about the tracks after I had gotten into NYU. And so I feel like that didn’t leave me personally like a lot of time to prep for my classes. Like I personally would have wanted to prep for my classes a lot more just because I’m coming from a more humanities non-stem background. And that’s something I that I could have done by taking online courses like doing Coursera, MOOCs, and also just like connecting with people and stuff. So I kind of wish I did that earlier.
Tim Baker [19:30] Okay I just learned the term MOOCs. And every time I hear it, I think about somebody talking in a gangster movie. When there’s someone they don’t like they don’t like, they call them MOOCs.
So finally, you’ve been here for a little bit in the city. What’s the one thing that you’ve experienced, that you feel that everybody should experience when they come to NYC?
Amber Teng [20:00] Gosh, that’s hard. I would say you guys should eat Berlin Dorner. Like honestly, I don’t know if this is like a weird thing to say but it’s like my favorite restaurant, like in the vicinity of the area is on Bleecker like McDougal and it’s like this small like hidden away place. And I probably go there once a week, like the owner is so nice and it’s called Berlin Donor. Yeah, they literally have like donor kebabs there and it’s like the best, in terms of like New York pricing. It’s like the best, like most affordable food I’ve had here that I could eat it every day and wouldn’t get sick of it. And like they make their own bread. It’s like a hidden gem.. Yeah, I would say everyone should visit there at least once, it’s really good. Like, I know that New York is known for bagels and pizza and like obviously go to the pizza places too but this one I would say this is really good.
Tim Baker [21:06] Yeah. Cool. And I think that’s it. Thank you.
Amber Teng [21:09] Thank you for having me.
Tim Baker [21:11] Thank you for listening to the Center for Data Science Admissions podcast. If you have any questions regarding the admission process, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. The music for this podcast was composed by the instrumental artist Cryptic One. You can find his work on his bandcamp profile.