A chance meeting between Prashansa Gupta, brilliant mind and conference speaker, and Gail Mercer-MacKay, The WIT Network Executive Director and CEO of Mercer-MacKay Solutions, at The WIT Network International Women’s Day Conference in Toronto in March turned into an unexpected internship opportunity.

Prashansa, a data scientist, Python developer, astrophysicist, STEM educator, and diversity advocate, spoke on the panel “From the Classroom to the Boardroom” at the conference and inspired the audience with her honesty and love of learning. I sat down with her to hear her thoughts on the conference, technology, and being part the Mercer-MacKay Solutions team. A chance meeting between Prashansa Gupta, brilliant mind and conference speaker, and Gail Mercer-MacKay, The WIT Network Executive Director and CEO of Mercer-MacKay Solutions, at The WIT Network International Women’s Day Conference in Toronto turned into an unexpected internship opportunity. Prashansa, a data scientist, Python developer, astrophysicist, STEM educator and diversity advocate, spoke on the panel “From the Classroom to the Boardroom” at the conference and inspired the audience with her honesty and love of learning. I sat down with her to hear her thoughts on the conference, technology and being part the Mercer-MacKay Solutions team.

On life-long learning …

“I am a stickler for learning. I don’t care that I don’t officially belong in the field, or have it as part of my background. If there’s something that interests me, then I just find a way to learn the subject matter or the technology. In that vein, I went to the Microsoft Ignite conference in January. I just wanted to attend the conference and absorb.”

A chance meeting and a welcoming community …

There I met Corinne Sharp (Executive Director of The WIT Network). We discussed The WIT Network, my passion for outreach, volunteerism, STEM education, and my desire to drive change.

I just like to talk to people. I’m the person always standing in front at the planetarium with the telescope talking to kids about space. So, Corinne took me up on my offer and invited me to speak from a student perspective and talk about how I changed fields and how hard it is to find jobs. A topic I know well, having moved from one field to another, and from India to Canada. I said I was happy to do it but wasn’t sure what wisdom I had. She told me to ‘just talk,’ so I did.”

When asked about the conference experience …

“I have always been a part of public speaking, talking to kids, talking to adults, talking about astronomy, physics and everything, but this was huge. This was at a different scale. There were over 400 people there and also people on the livestream around the world looking at you on the stage. I was nervous initially, but I just wanted to be completely honest and share what I had experienced, and I focused on my goal to hopefully help even one person in a similar position to myself. But it was so exciting to see that kind of community; it was a totally different atmosphere. It’s a different level of companionship that I saw, and inspiring to see so many like-minded people in one place.”

And there she met Gail …

“On the stage, I told everyone, ‘I’m looking for a job.’ So, everyone at the conference knew I was job hunting. Gail and I had a nice conversation at the event, but we didn’t discuss a job at that time. She did recommend that I speak with Jared Foxworthy, Chief Data Officer at Mercer-Mackay Solutions, to see if there was an opportunity for me to develop my skill set and get experience. Jared and I spoke. I expressed that what he needed was a new area for me, and that he and I would be learning together. I was honest – I had the drive, but not the experience.

Mercer-MacKay Solutions took a chance and brought me onboard for a two-month project. It’s been a great experience. A positive group to work with and a collaborative work environment. I am really grateful.”

On what she’s doing for Mercer-MacKay Solutions …

“Our smaller goal is to build an automation strategy for marketing reports, which involves coding and bringing everything together in one cloud and making a data lake. The big goal is to automate and put in machine learning and some predictive analytics at the end of it for the new Mercer-MacKay marketing portal – so it acts as a big marketing brain and strategist for clients.”

Technology frees the mind for greater pursuits …

“I’ve been coding for 10 years now. I think tech is a big part of doing any kind of research because tech is a tool for you. When you get technology involved in your research, or involved in your daily work, to automate some repetitive tasks, it takes a load off you. That clears up time and space for your mind to be creative. Technology helps you keep on moving ahead. I look at technology as an especially useful tool that can be integrated into whatever I do – science, marketing, finance.”