A passion for learning leads to a career in education
Analytics professor Amir Zadeh pursued his dream of teaching in higher education and now instructs the next generation of data scientists.
TOP 3 LESSONS
- Take good notes. As a student, Amir was so skilled in note-taking that he wrote several study guides.
- Ask more questions. It’s the biggest piece of advice Amir gives his students.
- Sharpen your skills in math and statistics. They’re key to succeeding in the business analytics field.
in applied mathematics with a concentration in computer science.
in industrial engineering and management systems, with a concentration in socioeconomic systems.
in management science and information systems (data science specialization) from Oklahoma State University.
AT A GLANCE
FINDING THE RIGHT PROGRAM
Oklahoma State University, where Amir earned his PhD, also offers an MS in business analytics and data science. According to its website, 90% of 2017-2019 grads received an offer within three months of graduation.
of people who are certified say their certification helped them find a job, according to Pearson VUE's Value of IT Certification report.
The average amount of time it takes to complete a PhD, depending on the program.
AREAS OF INTEREST
Amir's research interests are in business analytics, machine learning and data/text mining with applications in health, sports, social media and cybersecurity analytics.
I believe SAS programming and its applications, such as SAS Enterprise Guide, SAS Enterprise Miner and SAS Forecast Studio, have enabled me to work much more efficiently and productively.
Q: Do you remember how old you were when you gained an interest in technology? Were there skills or talents you had at a young age that led you in this direction?
A: I developed an interest in technology at a very early age because anything related to mathematics used to fascinate me. I remember taking a few summer computer classes and realizing that computer logic is based on a simple mathematical logic called Boolean algebra. From there, I wanted to learn as much as I could about combinatorics, number theory and algebra.
Q: Which came first, your interest in technology, or your interest in becoming an educator? How did those two converge?
A: I think they were both formed around the same time! I always had a passion for learning, as well as sharing my knowledge with others. Back in high school, we had very good math and physics teachers, which inspired me to become an educator. Back in those days, we used to take notes, and I remember my notes were exceptional. My friends often borrowed them because I always tried to simplify things so that they can be easily understood.
Interestingly, several years later, when I took a national entrance examination for graduate school, I got a very high rank with nearly perfect scores on most courses. I decided to work with a book publisher to publish all my notes as study guide books so other students could benefit from what I learned. I wrote several study guides in calculus, statistics and probability, computer programming, and operations research.
Read more of Amir's story
Q: Did you go straight to graduate school from undergrad, or did you have any jobs in between? Was becoming a professor your goal all along, or did you consider other careers?
A: After I finished my undergraduate degree, I went straight to graduate school to do a master’s in industrial engineering and management systems (with a concentration in socioeconomic systems). Back then, socioeconomic systems engineering was very popular and trendy, similar to getting an MBA degree today. My master thesis advisor, who graduated from Case Western University, was running a software development company. In the second year of my master’s degree, I started to work as a system analyst in his company, where I got involved in very large-scale IT-enabled business transformation projects in various business areas. I also worked for a researcher on a computer simulation project in a research institute at Technical University of Dresden.
I knew my long-term goal was to become an educator and researcher in higher education. I knew that pursuing a doctoral degree would enable me to learn more, develop my intellect and also create a solid foundation for my future in academia. Toward this goal, I chose to apply for the PhD program in management science and information systems (data science specialization) at Oklahoma State University. As you know, Oklahoma State University has a very good reputation in this field and is one of the universities with the best data science programs in the world.
My analytical thinking and mindset were perhaps fully shaped while doing my doctoral degree. Through my PhD studies, I had very good mentors, like professors Ramesh Sharda or Goutam Chakraborty, who prepared me to be successful in my career. Dr. Chakraborty taught me data analytics using SAS from the ground up.
Q: What types of courses did you take in your undergrad/graduate work that encouraged your interest in data and analytics? Was there one course that was particularly valuable?
A: During my undergraduate, I took many mathematics courses. I was interested in the applied side of math, though. In particular, I enjoyed linear algebra, graph/network theory, operations research, statistics, time series, stochastic processes, computer programming, data structures and algorithms courses. When I think about it, I realize how important it is to have skills in math and statistics in order to succeed in the business analytics field.
When I entered my master’s study, I got exposed to more applied, sophisticated course content. I took various research method courses that helped me become more analytical-minded. I learned how to define and structure a problem, how to master the different elements of the problem-solving process and how to synthesize and interpret my results. During my PhD, I worked on various data-driven research projects that strengthened my ability to think and act independently.
Q: Tell me about your current role. What skills do you get to use? What do you like about it?
A: I teach a variety of analytics and MIS topics at both undergraduate and graduate levels at Wright State University. On the research side, I use my analytical skills to perform research that contributes to the field of MIS and analytics.
Q: I would imagine you spend plenty of time helping students figure out their own futures in analytics. What advice do you give them?
A: My advice to students is to always be open-minded when it comes to learning about systems and technology. Learn as many tools and techniques as you can as you try to become more skilled with systems and technology. Master at least one programming language. Not to mention understanding business as much as technology.
Q: Do you teach SAS in any of your courses? And if so, which technologies, specifically?
A: I use SAS Enterprise Miner and SAS Enterprise Guide to teach in my Data Mining for Business course. I use SAS Visual Analytics in my Visualizations course. My courses revolve around principles of learning by doing and hands-on experience, which is very much needed.
My analytical thinking and mindset were perhaps fully shaped while doing my doctoral degree.