This April, thousands of SAS users will converge on Las Vegas for the premier event for SAS professionals: SAS Global Forum. The event will attract users from across the globe; in every industry imaginable; and from countless government and academic institutions. It’s an excellent place to network with and learn from users of all skill levels, with professionals with 40 years of SAS experience to those just getting started in attendance. To help those relatively new to SAS experience the conference for the first time, the SAS Global Users Group Executive Board put together the Junior Professional Award program.
The program is designed exclusively for professionals who have used SAS on the job for three years or less, have never attended SAS Global Forum, and whose circumstances would otherwise keep them from attending. And, don’t let the word “junior” confuse you. The award is available for full-time SAS professionals, regardless of age. (In fact, it’s perfect for individuals making a mid-life career change or those who recently started using SAS in their job.) You also don’t have to be a SAS programmer. If you’re using SAS as a researcher, systems administrator, analyst or really any line of work, you would qualify.
The Junior Professional award provides user with free conference registration, free training, and a number of opportunities to learn from and network in the larger SAS community. While the program doesn’t cover all costs (travel and lodging are not included), it does remove some of the financial barriers newer SAS users may have in getting approval to attend.
Larry LaRusso: Hello Arti. First of all, congratulations on winning one of last year’s Junior Professional awards. Tell me how you first learned about the program?
Arti Virkud: I learned about the award from my manager and a colleague at the New York City Department of Health, both of whom were previous award recipients. We have tried really hard to spread the word about what an incredible opportunity this is for SAS professionals on our team.
LL: What made you want to attend SAS Global Forum and why did you decide to apply?
AV: I’ve used SAS on a daily basis for over two years now, but have been using SAS in some capacity for much longer. My colleagues raved about SAS Global Forum and emphasized what an incredible opportunity it is to learn new techniques, network with incredibly talented SAS professionals, and learn about new research projects happening around the world. For me, applying was a no-brainer.
LL: What were your first impressions of SAS Global Forum?
AV: It’s huge! While that might sound intimidating at first, it was actually great to learn how SAS is being used outside of my field and expertise. I not only got to learn from people doing similar work as me, but I got to network with users from other fields who have built out fascinating skills or programs that I can apply to my work.
LL: What was the best part of your Global Forum experience?
AV: It’s probably a tie between the Quad and the networking opportunities. Actually, maybe it’s a combination of the two because I really enjoyed bonding with my fellow award winners and exploring the Quad with them to build out solutions to common obstacles we face in our projects and research. Another highlight was the Junior Professional Award lunch, where we got the opportunity to speak to expert SAS users. That was such a cool and unique experience.
LL: I understand you presented at the conference as well. Tell me a little about that experience.
AV: It was a really important step in my professional development. It was my first presentation to a global audience, so it taught me a lot of the differences in presenting to a diverse group of people. It was so cool that I was able to get feedback on my presentation through the conference app, and as a presenter, I was so wonderfully supported by SAS. It turned out my topic had a lot of interest, so I got incredible questions, recommendations, and contacts out of the experience. Presenting was certainly a highlight of my conference experience, so I would encourage future award winners to submit abstracts.
LL: What are doing now? Are you using SAS?
AV: Right now, I work as a data analyst focused in epidemiological research at the New York City Department of Health. I use SAS every day to pull data and complete statistical analyses to answer important population health research questions. I’m planning to eventually pursue a Ph.D. in epidemiology. In fact, at the lunch I just mentioned, I sat with an epidemiologist who made a really important impact on my planning and introduced me to some potential research collaboration opportunities.
LL: How were you able to apply the knowledge you gained from the experience to what you’re doing now?
AV: Honestly, the most direct application was the opportunity to talk with experts who can answer questions I had with my projects. For example, I was trying to figure out the appropriateness of the quasi-likelihood information criterion for PROC GENMOD in model selection for a study I was working on, and I was able to talk to the individuals responsible for crafting that output in SAS. It was crucial to my research.
LL: Any other comments about the award?
AV: I would really like to encourage anyone eligible to apply for the award. The attention to detail and quality of SAS Global Forum exceeded my expectations. Conference organizers, SAS, and other attendees really treated the Junior Professional award winners well. I found my fellow awardees to be incredibly talented and fun individuals, and I really treasured the opportunity to meet them. I left the conference with a tremendous built-in network of fellow SAS users that I use all the time.
LL: Thanks Arti. Sounds like it was an awesome experience. If you’d like to learn even more information on the program, read last year’s conversation with Junior Professional Program Coordinator, Sally Carson.