From Psychology Professor to Tessellation: Alicia Bembenek

My path from psychology professor to analytics consultant was not exactly linear. But the variety of experiences I’ve gained throughout my career have led me to my role at Tessellation. You might be surprised to learn that I still use many skills I gained as a professor and researcher–I’m still teaching and analyzing data! But truth be told: I did spend time learning some additional skills before making my career leap.  

After earning my PhD in social psychology I spent nine years as a typical professor. I taught Social Psychology, Statistics, and Intro to Psych classes. I conducted numerous research studies, analyzed the data, and presented the results at a variety of conferences. 

These are all-too-familiar scenes from my previous career.

Being a professor had its perks, but in 2014 I was open to and looking for a new challenge. I wanted to find a role where I could use my existing skills outside of the “Ivory Tower.” I found that in a role supporting a volunteer organization. And it was in that position that I discovered my interest and aptitude for graphic design. We had various marketing materials–our website, logos, newsletters, brochures, flyers, and annual reports–and I was being asked to create and manage all of them. I learned design best practices, Adobe InDesign and Illustrator, and discovered that I really enjoyed that. Briefly I thought: “Maybe I’ll become a graphic designer now!”

Then, as I was scanning a list of graphic design-related fields I saw those fateful words: Data Visualization. I was so excited to discover that there was a career where I could use my existing skills as an analyst AND apply my new found interest in design! I would DESIGN DATA!

I researched a number of different tools for data visualization, and ultimately decided to buy my own personal copy of Tableau Desktop to start learning. I started a blog, started creating visualizations for #Makeover Monday, and created a Twitter account to share my work. It was scary at first to put myself and my work out there, but at the same time it really did feel empowering. I had the goal of being a data visualization designer, and that wasn’t going to happen if I just stood still.

My first #Makeover Monday submission on Twitter. I was so nervous to post this!

Fortunately, things did begin to happen! My work was recognized as a “favorite” a few different times for #Makeover Monday, I was invited to give talks at the Tableau User Group and Data + Women meetings, and I identified and reached out to a mentor, Mike Cisneros, to support my career development. Having a mentor was so helpful in my career journey that Mike and I did a co-talk at Tableau Conference the following year about how to get started with mentorship.

Around this time I was also invited to develop Tableau tutorials for Stephanie Evergreen’s Data Visualization Academy. I’ve created 50 of them so far and it has been a great experience. I realized that I was using my blog and my talks at meetings as a way to continue to teach. I did identify myself as a teacher, and creating those tutorials really helped to solidify that I enjoy the process of learning and sharing knowledge. 

It was all of these experiences and milestones that led me to apply to Tessellation. They were looking for an Analytics Trainer, which I thought matched well with my skills and interests. I started at Tessellation in February 2019, and it’s been a smooth transition for me. At Tessellation, our approach to training is very similar to a college course. We have weekly training sessions and office hours with the trainees over a 12-week duration. I am responsible for grading trainees’ dashboard projects and giving them feedback. It’s kind of surprising how similar it is to being a professor!

In addition, I’m responsible for developing and delivering content for our Tableau trainings on Data Coach. I have created videos, quizzes, and practice questions and I’m excited to share them with a wider audience. Learning Tableau has been one of the most useful and fun skills I’ve acquired, and I’m very happy to continue to have the chance to pay it forward!

Photo credits: Priscilla Du Preez and Changbok Ko on Unsplash

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