Podcast: Erik Mjoen, Industry Relations Manager at UCSD's Halicioglu Data Science Insitute

This interview is featured on the fifth episode of UCSD’s Data Science Student Society podcast. Give the recap a clap on Medium, and check out the interview above.

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Erik Mjoen is the Industry Relations Manager at UC San Diego’s Halıcıoğlu Data Science Institute (HDSI), where he focuses on facilitating networking, leadership, partnership, and innovation. In this episode, we talk with him about his experiences in Industry Relations, his advice to students seeking industry opportunities, and his tips on soft and hard skills.

His Work

As an Industry Relations manager, Mjoen’s responsibilities entail overseeing research, leadership, partnerships, and developments in Data Science. Most of his daily activities involve meetings with companies, in hopes of establishing a collaboration between them and the HDSI. To establish partnerships, these companies must have a clear vision of what their goals are, how they will benefit from this partnership, and how they will utilize the resources.

Aside from meetings, Mjoen focuses on connecting students with companies by planning career fairs and other events for students to gain exposure to industry.

Mjoen’s work does not strictly pertain to either academia or industry. Rather, he is the liaison between both, which means he has a diverse set of tasks to work on and events to plan, so his day-to-day routine often varies.

He started his journey toward his current role in college, where he studied International Business and minored in Economics. He then worked in various international firms in San Diego, zeroing in on technological innovation during the dot-com boom, and eventually running his own recruitment business. Seeking a different path later on, he was introduced to UCSD and got his first job at the Career Center, focusing on industry engagement for technology and engineering. Over time, he familiarized himself with the university’s engineering talent.

Mjoen has worked at UCSD for more than three years and found that the university is a bastion for innovation and discovery. Both its faculty and student body are forward-thinking, and HDSI, in particular, strives to help “the next generation of innovators and leaders.”

Four Quadrants of Industry Relations

HDSI’s industry partnership framework can be broken down into four parts, according to Mjoen.

The first of these is Research and Innovation, which consists of engaging faculty and students, usually graduate-level, in solving complex problems. By working on these projects, students partake in addressing real-world issues all across the spectrum, as the faculty are very diverse in their domain knowledge. What is unique about HDSI is that it seeks to expand these experiences into the undergraduate curriculum.

The second part is Recruitment and Talent, which Mjoen argues is the most important because it cultivates competition and diversity in the marketplace. HDSI’s partners may set up internship and hiring goals, and they’ll in turn get assistance in meeting those goals as well as building recruitment brands.

The third part is Continued Learning, which serves to keep current professionals informed about the evolution of the Data Science field and the industries that apply its numerous moving parts. Faculty lectures and comprehensive workshops cultivate Continued Learning.

Leadership comprises the fourth quadrant and aims to foster the Data Science curriculum lends itself to the necessary industry skillsets. This area fosters two-way communication and collaboration, and it ensures that academic faculty and companies can learn from each other through facilitating relevant research endeavors.

Career Advice for Students

When planning out their careers, Mjoen stresses that students should concentrate more on the learning process and less on acquiring the most impressive-sounding job title offered by a top-grossing company. Also, as important as hard skills are, students should continually practice their soft skills and networking skills.

Many networks in our daily lives are outside the workplace: our friends, classmates, families, and others. Therefore, our aptitude in networking grows only with constant practice in every situation. Mjoen explains that a strong network is what paves the way for opportunities, and we must be vigilant of any opportunities that spring up in which we can make new connections. The doors that open up are almost always unpredictable, and it’s up to us to maintain strong connections through relationship-building and reaching out to people in our network.

Mjoen notes that networking is proactive not passive. As uncomfortable as it may seem, seeking out an employer or industry expert in person, as opposed to drafting an online application, will leave a more lasting impression. Doing so also increases the chances of follow-ups. Additionally, it’s better to follow-up upon meeting these recruiters to further the odds of them securing a place in your network and vice versa.

Having an elevator pitch also comes in handy, says Mjoen. With it, you can tell your story and your goals succinctly and efficiently. These should generally last 30 to 60 seconds.

For more insight about Mjoen’s efforts in pioneering for industry-academia alliances, go to this link.