Data Science in Detail: Jessica Hensley

Florida State University alumna Jessica Hensley.

Jessica Hensley graduated in 2018 with a master’s degree in statistical data science from the Florida State University Department of Statistics, part of the College of Arts and Sciences. Prior to her time at FSU, Hensley earned an undergraduate degree from Emory & Henry College, where she served as both captain of the varsity swim team and president of the mathematics club. Hensley is now a data analyst for the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee.

Where are you from? What brought you to FSU?

I grew up in Vero Beach, Fla., my entire life before becoming a student-athlete and going on to complete my undergraduate degree in mathematics at Emory & Henry College, in southwestern Virginia. The focus on data science within FSU’s statistics department, as well as the opportunity to be a teaching assistant, drew me to Tallahassee, as I wanted to gain a better understanding of both statistics and computer science.

What inspired you to choose your major and specific area of research?

During my undergraduate program, I completed three statistics and data analytics-focused internships with Elder Research, the Charlotte Hornets, and ESPN that each helped mold my interests and eventually discover my passion for sports analytics. I loved that I was able to combine two of my biggest passions — math and sports — and use my knowledge to make a difference in the sporting world. While I was completing my undergrad in mathematics, I knew I wanted to go to grad school to gain a better understanding of statistics as well as gain more coding experience.

You currently work as a data analyst for the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee. What does your job entail?

At USOPC, my job consists of a lot of different projects with new ones coming about all the time. My biggest project involves creating statistical models to model and predict athletes' performance trajectories as well as medal probabilities for the Olympic Games. I also create various data visualizations on data ranging from finance, to strength and conditioning, to audit and everything in between.

What is your favorite thing about your job? What has been most surprising to you about the field of data science?

My favorite thing about my job is that I get to be a part of Team USA and have a hand in helping our athletes achieve their dreams. Every day I am consistently challenged and rewarded with what I am working on, and I absolutely love working in an environment where everyone is so passionate. We are all driving towards the same common goal of supporting our athletes. The aspect that has been most surprising to me about the field of data science is the ability to use data and statistical knowledge in so many different realms and to be able to utilize it to not only create insights and informed decisions, which is what I was anticipating, but also to help create efficiencies.

What advice do you have for students considering careers in data science?

The advice I have for students considering careers in data science is to find a topic you are passionate about, come up with a project that interests you, and then just start doing it: go through all aspects of the project and start learning how to move from asking a question about the world around you to answering that question by utilizing data. The more practice you can get in learning how to collect the data, clean it, analyze it, and make inferences on the findings, the better. Never be afraid to start and never be afraid to fail.