Give Molly Poppie a few facts – say, your age, gender, location and income – and she probably knows what TV shows you watch and products you buy. That’s because it’s the UWM sociology alum’s job to understand everything about consumers as vice president of data science at Nielsen Holdings.
Poppie oversees a team of more than 50 data scientists in Chicago at the world’s largest market research firm. Their work tells food executives and TV producers how popular (or not) their products are.
It requires constant methodological innovation, and the research coming out of her of office has led to several valuable patents. High on the priority list now: how TV streaming services are affecting the landscape.
“People are flexible and looking for convenience,” Poppie says. “Variety is huge right now. The question is, what’s actually going to catch on? What’s going to stick around that we should be measuring?”
Poppie’s path to leadership began with a single sociology seminar at UWM. Originally an English major, her interests shifted to include psychology and pre-law. Then one summer, she enrolled in a sociology course on family.
“I loved it. It just was something that really made sense to me,” Poppie says. “I could see real-world applications for it, and I wanted to take more.”
She earned her bachelor’s in sociology and psychology, then a master’s degree in sociology. Along the way, she became particularly interested in how research could help predict people’s motivations and actions.
“In each of the classes,” says Nancy Mathiowetz, UWM sociology professor emerita, “she was a model student, curious and hardworking.”
It’s all served Poppie well at Nielsen, where she says one constant question fuels her work: “How can we make our measurement as strong and representative as possible?”