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When education and internship click

Bar chart using quintly spend data of six companies.

From the desk of a data storyteller: Part I

I began my adventure as a data analytics intern at PartnersCreative on June 27, 2016 — two months before I would begin my fall classes as a business analytics graduate student at the University of Montana.

During the span of summer 2016, I completed a prerequisite course for grad school, experienced my first client quarterly competitive review report at PartnersCreative (a larger undertaking than I could have imagined going in) and earned my certification in Google AdWords. After four years as an undergrad earning a degree in business administration with a specialization in marketing, I was eagerly working in the field I wanted to work in for the first time — one where I was just starting to see the real-world applications of all those lectures.

The first area of focus in my internship at PartnersCreative was learning to monitor and manage SEM campaigns. Google AdWords, search engine marketing and search engine optimization were topics we were exposed to in my undergrad, so I was relieved to see something familiar that directly fulfilled my goal of connecting school and work.

This immediate relevancy and excitement was not to last long however, as the transition to fall brought more than just colorful leaves. An increased workload with school assignments and classes ushered in an uncomfortable chill of self-doubt. I felt a strong disconnect emerge between school, where I learned how to perform tests in IBM’s SPSS program (used for data analysis in social sciences) to judge the level of statistical significance between two variables, and my internship, where I monitored SEM campaigns and reported on digital ad campaign performance.

Though it seems apparent now, I was so caught up in each project at the time that I was unable to step back and see how these two aspects flowed together naturally — how the data analysis skills learned in class directly fed into how I communicated recommendations and findings at the agency.

Everything finally clicked that winter. After spending the first semester learning descriptive statistics and their importance in illustrating the results of data analysis — and about programming and packages in programming language “R,” and ggplot, a tool in R that is used to create customized graphs — my new knowledge became an applicable resource for my internship.

Finished with my semester exams and on a brief hiatus from school, over the holiday break I threw myself into work at PartnersCreative to create graphs for my third client quarterly report in Chartio, an application used for data visualization. I marveled at how much easier Chartio was to operate than R as I generated graphs of total advertising spend and number of advertising creatives by company across the report, mentally examining how those aspects are basically descriptive statistics … and paused. This was the first time that I’d taken a moment to reflect on not just how a connection existed between school and work in graph creation, but also in how I analyzed descriptive data every day, whether monitoring SEM campaigns or drawing insights from Google Analytics, Pathmatics and quintly.

My worry had been that my classes emphasized learning the technical skills of programming as a base for analyzing data without a clear business or marketing application. But I realized that the skill we had actually been honing was the ability to derive meaning from the data and communicate this insight to others — a skill I practiced every day at my internship as I populated client-facing PowerPoint presentations and SEM reports with my charts and analyses.

Today, with a year at both PartnersCreative and graduate school under my belt, I look forward to what lies ahead as I continue to learn what it takes to be a data analyst both in the classroom and in the office.