My Graduation Story – To be a leading applied data scientist
Chris Edwards | 08/01/2020

In the tenth year of our existence, Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) has been supported by its three pillars of “Research, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship.” As our student community has passed through our campus over the years, they have excelled in many areas.

This story looks at a student that is a trailblazer in his own right, Zonghao YANG (’20, Statistics and Data Science). As an outstanding undergraduate student studying statistics, his experience at SUSTech and on exchange programs around the world has led him to join the Mars Leadership Experience Program (MLEP).

Zonghao YANG graduated from Chengdu No. 9 Middle School and received a second-class scholarship to SUSTech. He also opted to come to SUSTech because of its high-quality education, excellent teachers, and opportunities to go on exchange.

He decided to study statistics at the end of his freshman year. Zonghao YANG delighted in the opportunity to consume guest lectures from a wide variety of Nobel Laureates, Academicians, Fellows and other experts throughout his first year at SUSTech. In that year, he attended more than one hundred lectures, about two every week. One such lecture was from the winner of the Committee of the Presidents of Statistical Societies (COPSS) 2008 President’s Award, University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) Professor T. Tony Cai. The lecture on the role of statistical application in the era of big data motivated Zonghao YANG to find out more about this academic direction. Following further research, he decided to commit to it.

Not only was Zonghao YANG fully committed to statistics, but he wanted to give back to SUSTech through his studies. He established the first data science society, DataHub, following the completion of a semester-long exchange at Columbia University during his junior year. He was inspired by the cooperative nature of their society that sought to allow students to practice their use of computer science and programming languages to help start-ups. Given the innovative and entrepreneurial genes that flow through SUSTech, DataHub has helped many businesses through the 30 students involved.

Columbia University was not the only exchange program Zonghao YANG was able to enjoy. He also traveled to King’s College London (KCL) for a summer school in his freshman year. However, it was the time at Columbia University that had the most significant impact on his life. Not only did he have to become a more independent adult, but he also had to focus on his English communication skills. With that improvement in his English skills, he made many friends at Columbia University.

These friendships were vital in developing the next step in his career, as one friend asked him about internships. Zonghao YANG had not yet found an internship, so the two of them sat down as his friends spent a whole afternoon going through his CV and cover letter, word by word. This selfless act of friendship moved him, much as he had helped others in the past.

The internship in question was with Mars, one of the most substantial fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies in the world. The internship took place in the summer of his junior year. While many in China may not know the name “Mars,” there is a distinct possibility that they have consumed products from this brand, such as Dove Chocolate, Snickers, or M&Ms. Their brands account for more than half of the chocolate and chewing gum market.

Zonghao YANG worked in the Category Leadership division, which focused on business analysis from the categories’ perspective. It allowed him to use his academic background to full effect. One project he worked on involved developing a quantitative method to measure the influence of an index on sales growth. The company uses Key Performance Indices (KPIs) to guide in-store execution. However, in the past, the company conducted only qualitative studies to gauge the approximate influence of each KPI on sales.

To get a more accurate quantitative measure, he built multivariate linear regression models to delineate the correlation between KPI and offtake for Walmart and CR Vanguard. He used data like store sales, advertisement budget, and the number of products on display from the past four years. The models helped guide the executions of over 20,000 stores nationwide, contributing to 18% of the sales of Mars in China. The efforts earned him a return offer to the company. More significantly, it confirmed his passion for becoming a data scientist.

He noted that the work environment at Mars was very different to the work environment in China. Mars does not feature a lot of hierarchy, so it allows for more interaction between layers of management. If there were problems, he was encouraged to seek out support and cooperate with other colleagues and peers.

Following his internship, he was one of just nine interns to be selected for the general management trainee program. Zonghao YANG is the first SUSTech graduate to be employed inside Mars and will spend the next three years working inside the company learning more before given his own area of responsibility.

Reflecting on his time at SUSTech, he wants to thank Professor Wei HAN (his life tutor), his colleagues that won so many medals in tennis tournaments in Guangdong, and his friends that set up DataHub with him. All these people have helped him move forward as a person and deepened his relationship with SUSTech.

2020, 08-01
By Chris Edwards

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Translated and Adapted By SUSTech Newshub

Proofread ByYingying XIA

Photo BySupplied, Yan QIU


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