Kinga Stryszowska-Hill, Ph.D. | StormSensor
Not many of us know what we want to do in our twenties...or thirties...or forties...let ALONE when we were 11. But as 11-year-old Kinga Stryszowska-Hill explored the forests and rural countryside of Poland, she knew she was destined to feed her passion for the environment - whatever that would end up looking like.
Here, we hear about Kinga's journey from academia to industry having gained a BA, MS, and PhD in Environmental Studies, and eventually finding a strong affinity in tech to solve real-level environmental problems as a Geospatial Data Scientist. This wasn't an overnight transition but Kinga proves if you put the time and hard graft in - anything is possible. The other common thread throughout this interview is about the importance of networking, community and mentorship and Kinga's passion to help fellow techies and share advice over a coffee.
So grab your tipple of choice and find out how to embrace change and take the first step toward your dream career!
SO GOOD TO BE SPEAKING WITH YOU! LET’S START AT THE BEGINNING, WHEN DID YOU FIRST REALISE YOU WERE PASSIONATE ABOUT USING YOUR SKILLS AS A FORCE FOR ENVIRONMENTAL GOOD?
Well, I grew up in a very rural town in Poland, an upbringing which saw me freely run around in the local forests and fields. So, it’s safe to say that from a very early age, I always had an affinity with the outdoors! In the ’90s my parents emigrated to the United States, bringing the whole family to New York City, the move was a HUGE shift to what I was used to, I’d be taken from a luscious green bliss to an urban jungle!
It was a huge move for an 11-year-old, the move undoubtedly speared me to environmental stewardship whether 11-year-old me knew about it or not! I always had a natural gravitation to biology through high school and really excelled at Biology, when the time came to start thinking about what I wanted to do post high school it was such an easy decision. It has to be the environment; I remember thinking this is what’s been missing from my life!
My passion only increased as I gained a BA, MS, and PhD in Environmental Studies, subsequently sharing my knowledge as a visiting assistant professor & postdoc associate before transitioning into industry as a Geospatial Data Scientist just over 12 months ago.
WOAH, WHAT A JOURNEY! HOW WAS THAT TRANSITION FROM ACADEMIA TO INDUSTRY?
Academia is relatively closed off, with most academics being expected to stay in academia to do research and teach. With very little guidance and support on how to get out and exit the system. I decided to leave not because I felt like I wasn’t making a difference in academia, I was still super happy, more so I found I was always struggling to find real security in a full-time position with an adequate salary. I identified Data/ Tech as an area I would excel, with my science background I knew my analytics skills were super sharp, knowing I could use those skills to solve real-level environmental problems.
OK, AND WHAT KIND OF CHALLENGES HAVE YOU FACED AS A WOMAN MOVING INTO TECH, WHICH IS TRADITIONALLY A SPACE DOMINATED BY MALES?
I guess I’m fortunate that I’ve not had any huge adverse experiences in both industry or academia (which is also very male-dominated). Which is good. That said, I’ve seen first-hand the positive power of having women in senior management can have on a business.
WHAT LESSONS OR ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE OTHERS WANTING TO FOLLOW A SIMILAR PATH IN USING THEIR SKILLS FOR ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP WHO MAY BE LOOKING TO TRANSITION FROM ACADEMIA TO INDUSTRY?
Well, it’s such a big shift and equally difficult, I will invite anybody to follow me on LinkedIn, I’m always wanting to help aspiring techies and welcome a quick virtual coffee to muse about all there is. That said, separating it into the particulars of my path as a Data Specialist/ Data Scientist, my advice would be to start with a basic analytics tool such as Excel and work up from there, to SQL, R or Python. You don’t have to be an expert in any of them, though there’s always an element of upskilling involved.
And then there’s the subject matter expertise, for example, my company hired me because of my water expertise, having these specific nuances is often what secures you that role.
Sidenote, My PhD took me five years, my Masters 3 years and Bachelors 4 years - it’s a lot of education! Sometimes I think how much of an impact I could have made if I spent some of this time working for a mission-driven start-up!
I’m also a huge proponent of networking, and coffee chats. I learn something every single time I speak to someone new doing a similar profession. This is just talking to learn what type of work they do in different companies.
HOW ARE YOU GOING ABOUT THESE INTERVIEWS KINGA? IT CAN BE PRETTY DAUNTING APPROACHING A CEO FOR A FRESH GRADUATE FOR EXAMPLE.
I guess to get some runway, I started by reaching out to loose connections in the space I was looking to pivot into. Also, I don’t yet reach out to CEOs, more so people on a similar peer level or a role/ title that I’m interested in. You’ll likely get way more value immediately this way. I often ask, what do you do, how do you do it and how did you get her?
People love helping, it’s in our nature. My advice to any student would be to be brave and network with people that inspire and motivate you.
DO YOU SEE YOURSELF AS A MENTOR?
I guess so, my LinkedIn presence has a mentoring capacity in some ways. I’ve had a lot of conversations sharing my advice which I love. I personally don’t have any formal mentor/mentee relationships.
DO YOU FEEL MORE CAN BE DONE TO SUPPORT WOMEN IN THE TECH COMMUNITY?
I think community is so important. Slack, LinkedIn, and Facebook can be really powerful in these respects. I think if more women can be featured as role models it’s only a good thing.
WHAT DO YOU DO TO DISENGAGE FROM DATA SCIENCE, WHAT CAN BE A VERY MENTALLY ENGAGING CAREER?
Naturally, it probably comes as no surprise, with three young girls I love just to have a full reset and get some fresh air and explore. We’ve recently relocated to North Carolina, so still learning about the local surroundings.
FAVOURITE MANTRA OR QUOTE YOU LIVE BY?
That’s super hard. I really struggle with these. The thing that resonated most is embracing change, and seeing it as a positive. Scary change may be the best of all, life is always going to throw changes at you, we’ve had some really unexpected times of late. Rather than being locked down by fear and inaction, just lean into things. Not operating by fear. My transition from academia to Data Science was terrifying but only good things came from it.
DO YOU RECKON YOUR MOVE FROM POLAND TO THE U.S. AT A RELATIVELY YOUNG AGE HAS MADE YOU MORE ADEPT AT CHANGE?
Yes maybe! Though it’s not something I often think about. Embrace things and take the next step forward!
Thanks, Kinga you rock 🤘
Interview by Mike Hardwick