Fresh off the heels of graduating with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, Connor Watson ’18 has an internship lined up crunching data for Quantbot Technologies, a New York City-based private investment firm.
The summer gig complements the West New York native’s post-graduate endeavors. Watson has chosen to attend a grad school that “feels like home,” provides him with a “strong support system” — and recently launched a degree program in the field Harvard Business Review named “the sexiest job in the 21st century.”
“I’ll be continuing my education here at NJIT, pursuing a master’s degree in data science,” he says, smiling.
The imbalance between supply and demand of top-level analytics experts coupled with lucrative job opportunities at admired tech companies has lured many into the data science field. But Watson is going in a different direction. “This is a step towards a career in professorship,” he explains. “I've been helping Associate Dean Dr. Barry Cohen teach the CS 100 Python course since my freshman year. I've enjoyed every minute of it, especially when I was allowed to give [a] lecture.”
This fall, while working toward his master’s degree, the professor-in-training will continue to fine-tune his teaching skills at NJIT as a part-time instructor. Teaching, notes Watson, “has always been a passion of mine, even in high school when I tutored for the Foreign Language Honor Society.”
In fact, it was during his freshman year of high school that Watson first took an intro to computer science course. “It came naturally to me,” he recalls. “When it came time to apply to colleges, I looked back at my coursework to see what I was good at. And I remembered having little to no difficulty in that class. It turned out to be something that wasn’t easy, but something that I really liked and wanted to explore.”
While studying computer science at NJIT, Watson was introduced to the wonders of artificial intelligence, which sparked an interest in data science. “I discovered that there is so much you can do with computer science besides building apps and websites,” he says. “You can analyze data, you can make a machine that learns how to program itself just based on different data sets. That’s what made me want to go into data science.”
In addition to teaching, Watson says he would love to merge his love of music and science by using artificial intelligence to invent a device that helps people learn how to sing and play instruments. Music, it turns out, is at the heart of Watson’s most cherished memory as a Highlander. “I didn’t have too many friends, so I took up chorus in the third grade,” he says. “Music became a way to express myself.”
He sang his way through grade school, middle school and high school before joining NJIT’s resident a cappella group, GigaBeats. “My best experience at NJIT was in 2016 when GigaBeats performed in our first annual showcase,” he says. “Having 150 students, faculty, parents and families come together to watch us perform…looking at the community we brought together? That was a true Highlander moment.”
When he isn’t crooning, Watson is grooving to K-pop. “It’s dancy and upbeat. I can’t stop listening to it,” he says. Rap/R&B impresario Childish Gambino is also in heavy rotation. “He is a pure genius. He’s my favorite rapper,” he says of Gambino, who broke the internet with the single “This is America” and its provocative accompanying music video, which tackles race, gun violence and police brutality. “When I saw the video, I instantly bought tickets for his concert in September. I've had it on replay ever since.”
For now, Watson is eager to cut his teeth at Quantbot before returning to NJIT, where he’ll learn how to analyze and manage large data sets, create predictive models and apply statistical methods for decision making and problem-solving. And although he’s got four semesters to tackle before he officially completes his postgraduate education, he can already tell you what he’ll miss the most when he’s done studying at NJIT: “The strong sense of community,” he says, without skipping a beat. “There are so many different types of people and cultures and backgrounds here. I love it. It’s unlike anyplace else.”
Sounds like he’s got something to sing about.