Data scientist Kanu Agarwal caught the data bug at uni and has never looked back
When Kanu was in Year 12, choosing a degree was a process of elimination.
“I looked through the course catalogues and started crossing out the ones I didn’t want to do,” she says. “I was like, ‘Bachelor of Arts? Nope, absolutely not’.”
A lifelong “nerdy kid”, Kanu knew she wanted to study something maths-related. But she also knew the advice she kept hearing wasn’t quite right for her.
“Everyone tells you that if you’re interested in maths and science, you should study engineering,” she says. “I wanted to study something a bit broader.”
Kanu decided on a double degree in maths and computer science at QUT in Brisbane. She also took advantage of some of the awesome STEM-related extracurricular activities; she was president of Women in Technology at QUT for one year before starting a new club called QUT Women in Maths.
“It’s important to think about life outside of your studies and work, and do extracurriculars and other things that make you happy,” Kanu says.
An internship at CSIRO spawned an interest in the Great Barrier Reef, and Kanu spent her honours year working on a data project tackling the problem of crown-of-thorns starfish.
Outbreaks of the starfish cause irreparable damage to coral, but there are limited resources to control them. “I was using models to figure out, ‘okay, I’ve got a limited budget, where should I go to control starfish populations to preserve the largest amount of coral?’ It becomes a mathematical optimisation problem.”
Kanu never thought she’d end up working in finance, but as a Westpac Young Technologists Scholar she knew a lot about the culture there. She also knew she wanted to focus on data, and Westpac’s graduate program was one of the few with a dedicated data stream.
Now, Kanu uses data to help catch credit card fraudsters instead of coral-eating critters.
“I’m a big believer in just doing what you want to do,” she says. “If you’re interested in something, just study it. Everything will work itself out later.”
Kanu Agarwal’s study + career pathway to becoming a data scientist
- Bachelor of Mathematics (Applied and Computational Maths) (Hons) / Bachelor of Information Technology (Computer Science), QUT
- Intern, CSIRO’s Data61
- Research assistant, QUT School of Mathematical Sciences
- President, Women in Technology at QUT + QUT Women in Maths
- Data graduate, Westpac
- Associate data scientist, Westpac
Want to hear more from Kanu? Sign up for the STEM + X Webinar: Maths & Data, 12pm AEST, Wednesday, 24 May 2023
Author: Chloe Walker
Chloe is a freelance writer and editor from Melbourne. She loves talking to people about their passions, whether that’s STEM, arts, business, or something else entirely! www.chloe-walker.com