Elizabeth Gilbert is in her second year at Ohio State, where she majors in data analytics. Ohio State’s undergraduate data analytics major is one of the first in the country, and is uniquely interdisciplinary.
Data analytics majors receive a bachelor’s degree from the College of Arts and Sciences through curricular partnerships with the College of Engineering, the College of Medicine and the Fisher College of Business. Gilbert is taking full advantage of these interdisciplinary collaborations, and is setting herself up for success in this rapidly growing field. She recently finished some research on stress levels in hair that allowed her to partner with the College of Nursing.
How did you first get interested in data?
I’m originally from the Chicago area. I got interested in data science as a sophomore in high school taking AP (Advanced Placement) statistics and computer science, and I found the topics really engaging and interesting. When I was talking to my mom about how much I enjoyed the AP exams, I realized you could combine statistics and computer science, and that it was called data science. That was an exciting realization because I knew I had found what I was passionate about.
What made you decide to attend Ohio State?
When I was looking at colleges and then deciding between them, I did my research and looked at the degree programs the schools offered. A lot of schools had statistics and computer science programs, but Ohio State has the most developed and specialized opportunities for data science specifically. I came to Ohio State because of the data analytics major and because I could see all the investment that the university and groups like the Translational Data Analytics Institute are putting into analytics here at Ohio State. Ohio State is the clear choice.
During your time here, you’ve been involved with some research with the College of Nursing. What’s that been like?
I originally met Kate Calder, a professor in the Department of Statistics, during an analytics project and later connected with her via email about possible opportunities. She invited me to do research with her, and connected me to a collaborator in the College of Nursing, Jodi Ford, who had data that needed analyzing. Jodi and her PhD student, Sam Boch, had hair samples where they were measuring the stress hormone cortisol. I was interested in helping with the research, so I applied for funding from the Office of Undergraduate Research and got approved. Over the summer I created a database to organize the data from surveys that Sam collected. We had a lot of background information about the participants and used multiple analytics techniques. I learned a lot of new things.
How valuable was it to get involved with hands-on research experience?
One of the most valuable parts of the research was the freedom to control the direction of the analytics. Kate and I would check in to talk about next steps. She gave me guidance, but she really left it up to me to decide what to do and how to communicate my results by creating reports. It was up to me to really be an expert on this data set we had. I also got some lab time. Kate knew it was important for me to spend some hands-on time in the lab working on collecting the cortisol data. I don't have any background in nursing, but Sam and Jodi taught me how to work with the hair samples and make sure all the data was going to be accurate when we measured it.
How is your experience here preparing you for life after graduation?
I think the way that this research opportunity has tied into what I want to do as a career most directly is just the experience of conducting and managing a research project, in the analytics especially, but also being exposed to the whole project and larger study. It’s given me a good perspective into how the research was done and the technology that is used, and I think I’ll be able to take a lot of those skills and have a very good basis for what that process can look like in the future. I found that my passion for data science really ties into how I can help improve and impact others’ lives.