It may seem like a stretch to use a background in studying primate decision-making to land a job at the world’s leading provider of premium audio storytelling, but for Georgia State graduate Julia Watzek (Ph.D. ‘20), the connection just made sense.
Watzek, who studied psychology and cognitive sciences has always had a love for discovering why and how primates and humans make decisions. Her research mainly focused on how animals and humans make adaptive decisions in uncertain environments.
“It’s often not so different from the way monkeys may compare a banana against a piece of carrot,” Watzek said. “We know that primates make relative decisions, and we as humans do as well. From all of this research, I have a pretty good idea of how humans behave.”
Watzek recently started working as a data scientist at Amazon’s digital audiobook service, Audible. She applies her self-taught coding skills and her knowledge of primate and human behavior developed at Georgia State to discover more effective ways for users to find relevant content among Audible’s millions of audiobooks and podcasts.
Watzek’s work to enhance people’s ability to find audiobooks and podcasts that they’ll enjoy involves strategies such as improving recommendation and search algorithms.
“Understanding humans and having the technical skills to build tools that help them make informed decisions work very well together in data science,” Watzek said. “We take a wealth of data and numbers to help people figure out how to make the best out of our audio content.”
Watzek said the research skills she developed at Georgia State have played a major role in her career.
“Studying psychology at Georgia State really helped me understand how to make sense of the numbers and understand what they mean on a human level,” Watzek said.
Since 2018, Watzek has also was a project coordinator for the international project ManyPrimates. The project aims to coordinate with researchers across the world to answer questions related to primate cognition, such as how environmental variables influence cognition. Watzek said the research helped her hone her collaborative skills and develop a deeper understanding of how humans and other primates may behave.
Watzek said she enjoys the research and data aspects of her job because it plays such an important role at Audible.
“We use data and experimentation to enhance the user experience and make the search and content discovery process easier, compared to what we had in place before,” Watzek said. “We also try to help people discover things they might not have searched for.”
To do that, Watzek said she might analyze, for example, listening behaviors, search behavior and trending topics to create a set of recommendations that are specific to the user.
“My mom, when she goes to audible.com, will see recommendations from the algorithm that I helped program,” Watzek said. “I think that’s a really cool aspect of the job. You work on something and it helps people find new content.”