A federal contractor working at the intersection of data science and product management for the National Institute of Health, Irfan is pursuing the MSCAPP to gain computational analysis skills to drive innovative and equitable solutions in policy.
Headshot of Fatima Irfan
Fatima Irfan

“A key element of my neuroscience background I see myself bringing to Harris is a sense of completing a puzzle—or finding how puzzle pieces can work in different ways,” said Fatima Irfan, MSCAPP Class of 2025.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Irfan grew up in a diverse community. “In elementary school, we’d share different foods and count how many countries were represented out of 30 students: we usually needed more than two or three hands for that. However, as I got older, I saw inequities, like educational opportunities and healthcare access, that existed along racial lines, and that’s what sparked my interest in addressing something with social inequity.”

As an undergrad at Wellesley College, Irfan said she initially didn't know what she wanted to study. “An introduction to neuroscience course changed that, though. I loved how dynamic the course was, and in subsequent courses, the professors continually encouraged us to think outside of the box and be problem solvers. I remember one professor said, ‘One discovery could overturn everything we know about the brain…and you could be the one who makes it.’ Getting that encouragement in my freshman year was invaluable.”

While at Wellesley, a coding class also made a huge impact on Irfan: “I honestly fell in love with programming, which surprised me since my high school exposure to coding was not good. Back then, I felt only a few people had a special part of their brain that allowed them to succeed at coding, and I just counted myself out.” Wellesley professors, Irfan said, approached programming and coding differently and encouraged students to apply these skills to issues about which they were passionate.

“I realized I enjoyed problem-solving and saw how data was an incredible tool to investigate issues of social inequity. Understanding the divide between objective and subjective data is critical because no data can truly capture all the subjectivities of humans. That understanding is especially important for policy applications since it can potentially impact millions of people.”

After graduating from Wellesley, Irfan began working as federal contractor for the National Institute of Health (NIH)—a role she continues part-time while completing her MSCAPP. “At the NIH, I’m working at the intersection of data science and product management. Projects I’ve worked on include a data harmonization initiative for studies, making the data more accessible to the greater research community.”

In addition to her work for the NIH, Irfan also serves as an alumni mentor for Coding it Forward. “Since I’m pretty early in my career myself, I felt I could relate well with some of my mentees. Plus, there's still not a lot of representation for women—much less women of color—in the field of technology for social good. It's a great opportunity to help the next generation of data scientists.”

As for why Irfan chose the Master of Science in Computational Analysis and Public Policy (MSCAPP) program, she said, “The program’s level of intentionality—about teaching technology and data science with the policy perspective and vice versa—was something I didn't find in other programs. I am fascinated with telling stories about people using data, and the MSCAPP will equip me with the computational and analytical skills necessary to utilize data to drive innovative and equitable solutions in policy.”