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About the Women in Data Science Series
A data scientist knows that some of the richest and most intriguing stories can be found in a dataset.
To highlight the stories behind the women in data science at Booz Allen, we’ve created an editorial series on the individuals who are solving today’s big challenges and redefining, in their own unique ways, what it means to be a data scientist.
Explore the profiles and get personal with women from a variety of backgrounds, skill sets, and experience who are a part of our growing team of data scientists at Booz Allen.
Sherika Sylvester isn’t afraid of a challenge.
She will tell you this because several years ago, even after challenging days in her postdoctoral research lab, she came home and taught herself how to drive a new car with a manual transmission referencing YouTube videos on her smartphone.
“I needed a car and saw one on a website that I really wanted, however, it was a manual transmission. The next day, I went to the dealership and purchased it, but I couldn’t drive it home, so I had to commit to teaching myself,” said Sherika. For 2 weeks, she practiced for 2 hours each night. By the end of the second week, she was able to drive to work.
It’s this same persistence and thirst for learning that carries Sherika through her career. Coding since the age of 16, she grew up in Norfolk, Virginia where the influence of the city’s military bases sparked her interest in technology. She majored in applied mathematics with a minor in biology and chemistry during her undergraduate studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She went on to earn a doctorate in physiology, biophysics, and systems biology from Cornell in 2014.
Originally dreaming of opening her own biomedical research lab, Sherika ended up transitioning into data science to use skills developed during her Ph.D. program.
At Booz Allen, Sherika works on projects touching the health sphere, including opportunities with the Food and Drug Administration and Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Inspector General.
“I’ve noticed that people don’t progress at a rate that they should largely because they believe that they’re not good enough.”
Sherika also volunteers her time as a data science mentor. “Due to competition,” Sherika explained, “people may not be able to grow as fast as they should, and they don’t always have the support they need to progress as a data scientist.”
In 2018, Sherika launched the Women in Data Science Incubator at Booz Allen “to provide support to budding data scientists as they complete data science-related projects.” She also volunteers with Data Kind DC where she works to create data-driven solutions for not-for-profit organizations.
Sherika faced some pushback when she was trying to make the transition from academia to industry, and now, she’s doing everything she can to empower others to reach their goals.
“Usually when I interact with people who are new to data science, a lot of people are very insecure about their abilities,” Sherika said. “I’ve noticed that people don’t progress at a rate that they should largely because they believe that they’re not good enough.” Sherika strives to instill confidence in her mentees, and their own excited energy keeps her motivated.
“Being true to myself and not changing my personality or how I move in the world in order to fit in within different environments.”
Aside from working with her mentees, Sherika stays motivated and inspired by her friends and music. She devoutly listened to British rock groups The Music and The Maccabees (until they disbanded) and an American punk rock group called Screaming Females. Now, she could tell you everything there is to know about the sensational K-Pop group BTS.
On a typical Saturday, you might find her working on a data science project for fun. Sherika said some of her friends might call her a “workaholic” for this reason, but she’s merely doing what brings her joy.
In addition to her accomplishments of earning her Ph.D. and getting a job outside of academia, Sherika is proud of “being true to myself and not changing my personality or how I move in the world in order to fit in within different environments.”
With that mentality, there’s little holding Sherika back from achieving her next pursuits, including an attempt to publish novel machine learning algorithms. Plus, since she taught herself how to drive a stick shift. “I can do anything now,” she says.