Opinion & Editorial

Why This Prolific Data Scientist Chose WashU

Bryan Goggin graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the the School of Continuing & Professional Studies (formerly University College), in 2016, a first-generation college graduate. He now works for Bayer, formerly Monsanto, as a data analyst. Though bright and talented, there was a time when he didn’t know if he’d ever finish his degree. Through the mathematics program at WashU, Goggin connected with the data-science industry and carved out a path unlike anyone else he knew. Keep reading to learn more about Goggin’s journey, and how it’s never too late to finish your degree.

How did you originally become interested in getting a degree through the School of Continuing & Professional Studies (CAPS)?
After high school, I went to college at the University of Missouri-Columbia for a year before leaving, having completed about 20 credits. I had a really hard time picking a major—I switched it at least once a week the whole first year. I just wasn’t really mature enough to make that sort of focused life decision. Neither of my parents went to college, and I’m the oldest child. No one around me pushed me to stick it out those four years.

I was around 24 when I began thinking about going back to school. I started at St. Charles Community College and had originally planned to study computer science. They recommended the CAPS program, where I got connected with advisor Elisa Wang. She got me enrolled, and I shifted my focus to the math program. I do enjoy computer science, but the math program at CAPS had a lot of flexibility and classes that interested me, so I chose that route. My previous credits transferred, and it was a very smooth transition.

How did you spend the years between high school and college?
Mostly I jumped from job to job. I worked at FedEx, Lowe’s and did some landscaping work. Honestly, if you were to tell me at age 22 that I’d be working indoors at age 30, I wouldn’t have believed you. But something changed around that time. Honestly, I think it was that my friends from high school were all graduating from college, and I figured it was probably my last chance to try. And I was able to make it work.

I worked part-time as a math tutor, which was very convenient and paid for my gas to get to and from school.

If you have to work full time and want to try a degree program as well, CAPS is one of your best options. The class scheduling is really favorable for people working full time, and there’s a lot of flexibility.”

What is your current position, and what does it entail?
I work as a data scientist at Bayer, formerly Monsanto. I work on a team that provides analytics and predictions for breeders of corn and soybeans. With algorithms, we can write programs that handle much of what a statistician would do, much more quickly and accurately. Managing data brings in a lot of math-related elements I’d previously learned but also directly using computer-science skills as well.

I made some connections through CAPS that led me into the data-science industry. I did an internship with a professor I met through a math class whose company did Natural Language Processing, or NLP. So if you have 10,000 documents, you can create an algorithm to parse through the text for you and get the main idea across, instead of attempting to read the whole thing.

What did you enjoy most about studying at CAPS?
Once I was there, it just felt right. When you walk around on campus, there’s a sense that it’s a real place of learning, especially being surrounded by successful, motivated people. It helped me to believe that if they can all do it, so can I. There’s no reason I can’t. That mentality really helped me. In high school, I never felt like I fit in, even though I was the same age as everybody else. But at CAPS, where there’s such a range of backgrounds and walks of life, I really felt like I fit. It’s an amazing feeling.