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Problem Solved

A pre-med student becomes a Graduate Student-At-Large and sets off on a new career path.

Written by Philip Baker
Anna Bladley

Anna Bladey's plan to attend medical school straight out of college went awry. 

“It was a really confusing and frustrating time in my life,” she says, looking back on her last days as a pre-med student at Dartmouth College. 

“I did a couple internships, which were valuable and interesting, but eventually realized I missed quantitative problem-solving. I’d always enjoyed math, but hadn’t explored it very deeply in undergrad and didn’t know how to integrate it into my career. Going back to school was my best option.”

She began researching flexible post-baccalaureate programs online and eventually discovered the Graduate Student-at-Large (GSAL) program at University of Chicago, which allows its students to take for-credit classes alongside University of Chicago graduates and undergraduates. 

"At other universities, the continuing education programs are often separate from the university proper, and I worried that the curriculum may be watered down," she explains. "But here, I could sit in classrooms next to full-time UChicago students and learn from UChicago professors.”

She enrolled, beginning the program with two math classes, one applied and the other theoretical. “I really enjoyed the class in mathematical proofs,” Bladley says,  “and I still like to imagine myself—maybe in another life—undertaking the long journey through advanced theoretical mathematics. But I also enjoyed the practical applications of math I learned in Linear Algebra, and decided to build on that the following quarter by taking a statistics class, Regression Analysis.

During her class on regression analysis, Bladley had a revelation. "It dawned on me that I might’ve discovered something I could turn into a career path," she says. 

Armed with a new sense of purpose and a growing interest in big data, Bladley began to research the field of data analysis, exploring her options by speaking with friends who worked in the field and leveraging her new UChicago connections. She reached out to GSAL's Associate Program Director Esther Pandian-Riske, who told her about UChicago's Master of Science in Analytics (MScA) program and suggested she enroll in its statistical analysis course. To her delight, she excelled—and was accepted into the MScA. 

“My biggest fear is being bored,” Bladey says. “I knew I needed to find something that would continue to challenge me, a field where problem-solving skills aren’t just a qualification that gets you through the door but are used on a daily basis. That’s the sort of field data science is, and I’m grateful to the GSAL program for giving me the opportunity to make that discovery.”

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