Mehrnaz Shokrollahi’s interest in artificial intelligence and machine learning was sparked in her undergraduate program in Electrical and Computer Engineering, when she took a course in biomedical signal analysis. The course opened her eyes to just how wide the applications of artificial intelligence could be, including improving medical treatments and prolonging lives.
Shokrollahi went on to do her master’s and PhD program with Sri Krishnan on developing algorithms to identify the aggressive sleep movements that typically precede a Parkinson’s diagnosis, graduating with her doctorate in 2015.
In 2020, Shokrollahi moved to the financial sector, taking a job as senior data scientist at PureFacts Financial Solutions. “There are a lot of women in my network that were very successful in the financial sector, and that made me think this was an area to pursue,” she says, noting the sector is known for a more welcoming culture for women, compared to the more male-dominated world of small tech startups. Also, that year, Shokrollahi was named as one of the 30 Influential Women Advancing AI by AI blog Re-Work.
At PureFacts, Shokrollahi develops algorithms and use cases for wealth management institutes, such as showing clients their expected investment growth using a variety of scenarios. Her work involves numerous conversations to understand the business side, she says. “I need to know how my algorithm and my model can help them and then to go back and see whether it did indeed help them or not,” she says.
Her advice for young people is, “don’t be scared to get your hands dirty working on applications, there’s so much data available for free online. Try to come up with your own use cases,” she says. “Women, especially, often have self doubt, but I always remind myself of Newton’s first law. Once you start something, it’s kind of like a rolling ball, it’s going to get easier.”