By Louis DiPietro
Weihua Li MPS ’11 always loved numbers and data, particularly the applied side – taking messy data and transforming it into meaningful insights.
“That’s how I chose statistics. I wanted applied work,” Li said. “I always wanted to get a job.”
That passion ultimately led her to Cornell University and to Statistics and Data Science’s Master of Professional Studies (MPS) program in applied statistics.
After a decade working in the data industry at companies like AT&T and Comcast, Li is currently the director of targeting and data operation at NBCUniversal, where she manages a team of analysts who create data-driven TV or digital advertising campaign target segmentation and customer analysis for both internal and external clients.
“My work is about data analytics and showing my results to clients. It’s very data-heavy, coding every day and building models,” she said. “I’m still using what I learned from MPS.”
A two-semester graduate program, Cornell University’s MPS in applied statistics is designed for students like Li who intend to pursue successful and lucrative careers as statisticians, data scientists, and analysts in varied fields. The MPS equips students with modern data and analytical skills and offers hands-on, collaborative projects with client companies.
As an undergraduate at Agnes Scott College, she double majored in math and economics but discovered math was her calling, and so was working in industry. As an MPS student at Cornell, she received a scholarship from the Cornell Institute for Economic Research (CISER) – which has since been absorbed by the Cornell Center for Social Sciences – and divided her MPS experience between preparing lectures for her CISER responsibilities and completing course work, like learning Statistical Analysis Software (SAS).
For her MPS project, Li built a statistical model to crunch public transportation data. She credits the experience with revealing how messy real industry data can be.
“I saw how dirty the data is compared to classroom data, which is very clean and ready to use,” Li said. “In positions like mine, 95% of project time is spent cleaning up data, so if students have exposure to that type of data cleaning, it’s very helpful.”
Li began preparing her résumé for the job hunt in March of her second and final MPS semester, and upon graduation, took a job as an analyst at Analysis Group.
“From a tech skill perspective, I was well-prepared for the job upon graduating,” she recalled. “I appreciated the CISER scholarship and the lecturing responsibility because it showed prospective employers that I wasn’t just good with course work. It helped me stand out compared to other graduates.”
After Analysis Group, Li spent three years at DirectTV and AT&T, and then Comcast, where she was a manager and data scientist from 2017 to 2021, when she moved into her current role at NBCUniversal.
Her advice to MPS students?
“Take care of the required courses because they do prepare you and help you land a job,” Li said. “You may not know what you want to do with your career, but don’t choose courses just to fulfill credits or get a good grade. Maybe for your first job, employers might look at your GPA a little, but after that, who cares? The program prepares you with all the technical skills that you need for the job. Take it seriously.”
Louis DiPietro is a writer for the Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science.