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Posted by Rachel Burt on April 30, 2018
Lydia King, like many incoming freshmen, came to college not knowing exactly what she wanted to do with the rest of her life -- but she knew her future involved data science and analytics. So when she saw that there was a need for a club where students could go to learn the skills necessary to be successful in fields related to data science, she decided to start one.
Major: Double major in economic analysis (BS) and math-actuarial track (BA)
Hometown: Lynn, Mass.
Clubs: BUDSA (Binghamton University Data Science and Analytics) and Knitwits
Career goals: “I’ll be starting as a quantitative data analyst in July at a startup in Cambridge, Mass. In the long run, I very much want to be working in education reform; that’s my goal. I’ve been in public schools, private schools and charter schools. I’ve been everywhere and I’ve also done a lot of research on it, and I think that the U.S. education system, for many reasons, needs to be re-looked at. I think a lot of times you don't get anywhere in reforming the system unless you have data to back you up, so I would love to use data science in that field specifically. That's what I’m the most passionate about at the moment.”
How would you explain data science to someone who has no idea what it is?
"Think of a Venn diagram with three circles. In one circle, we have mathematics and statistical analysis. In another, we have programming abilities, like the Python and R that we teach in our club. Then, finally, in the last circle we have "Industry Knowledge," or "Subject Matter Expertise." This could refer to any industry that you are interested doing data science in: business, biological sciences, politics, linguistics, anywhere that your data comes from and where your results will have an impact. The intersection of these three things -- this is the definition of data science."
Photo from the opening ceremony of BUDSA's first-ever Datathon.
What first got you interested in data science?
"I went to a tiny little charter school in Salem, Mass., and in my junior year I was the treasurer in a really tiny school in a low-income area. We had this whole thing with prom where we were capped at spending $40 per ticket. As a result, prior classes had put on these really rinky-dink events, and people just weren’t going because it wasn’t what a real school has for prom; it was sad. We said, 'Alright, we need to fundraise like crazy.' We raised about $8,000 and, for me, I was just so excited about doing the data and figuring out expected costs and all that. Doing the financials was really thrilling to me. I ended up making a whole set of records for future treasurers showing the events we did, the amount of advertising that went into them, and the projected and actual revenues from each one.
After that whole process, I was still pretty unsure about what I wanted to do with my life, but I liked the challenge of working with numbers. I sat down and read a college report -- because that’s what you do when you’re a junior in high school and trying to figure out where you’re going to apply for college -- and I read this article on the top 10 fields to get into if you’re applying to college right now, and number one was data science. I read the article and I was like, 'Wow, this sounds like all I need to do is learn a little bit of programming and then I can 100-percent do this.' I wasn’t sure what type of industry I wanted to get into, but I was thinking more public-focused. Data science is a really good way to find a legitimate job where you can go and use these skills to help people.”
The BUDSA E-Board and the winning team of the Datathon at the end of the event.
What made you want to start a data science club?
“I realized at one point that I wasn’t going to learn these skills unless I had a peer group that was also motivated to do it. So I reached out to other people, mostly in my major, and assessed the interest and asked if everyone would feel more motivated to learn these things if there was a group. And it did seem like people were interested. Right before my junior year started ,we decided we wanted to start the club, so we got a group together and the number-one goal of the club was to focus on data science and analytics and be exposed to the field. Analytics and data science jobs are really good, high-paying jobs with high job satisfaction that lots of people don’t even know are out there.”
How did the club's first ever datathon go?
“131 people attended our first-ever datathon. It was a 12-hour event, so we probably had about 80 or 90 stay for most of the day, and then the rest trickled in and out. It was very nice to see people getting up at 10 a.m. on a Saturday to come and start working. It was a fun event -- we had free food and free t-shirts -- but at the end of the day, students were getting up and working for 12 hours on a project and they were motivated to do that, which was really impressive. The teams we had demo were awesome, we saw some very interesting projects. The data sets we had them work with were donor data sets, and we also had five guest speakers through the day.”
Photo from Knitwits Facebook page.
Are you involved in any clubs outside of data science?
“I’m the current vice president of Knitwits, and have been in Knitwits since freshman year. Basically, I make sure we stay organized and make sure our charity efforts are going noticed by the Student Association. They tried to cut our budget this year down to $0 and I created a statistic showing that for every dollar the Student Association gives us Knitwits, how many dollars we donate to charity. So if they give us $200, we donate $800 to $1,000, which means there’s a $4 or 5 dollar to $1 ratio. They’ve actually implemented that as an official statistic now with all of their charity organizations. They’re going to look at how much they give them as a ratio to how much they donate to charity. I like to think that I’m the numbers side of Knitwits. In the long run, I want to be the numbers side of an organization that does great things for people. I want to make sure the organization has everything it needs to facilitate that. I’m also an RA, so that takes up a lot of my time. This is my third year as an RA.”
Photo from BUDSA's Fall 2017 GIM.
What are your thoughts on classes dealing with data science here at Binghamton?
“The classes exist; they’re already here. If you look at the basic stats classes that we have in the math department, the computer science classes are there in Watson, and SOM (School of Management) classes are there as well. If you took two classes from each department, that’s it -- there’s the minor program done. The classes already exist, so they could easily make a minor program. The problem is what kind of students would be allowed to sign up for it, where the funding for those professors would go, and that sort of thing, which would need to be figured out at a much higher level than my paygrade. For the major program, there would have to be a whole structure for it, but it's always been my point that it's there and the students want it, so we need to make it happen.”
Lydia King with her best friend, Faith.
Do you have any hobbies?
"I am very passionate about drawing, painting, and photography. Almost all the artwork on the walls in my room was created by me."
Do you have any fun plans for the summer?
"Before I start work, I'll be visiting family and traveling around Europe for three weeks with one of the friends I made here in Binghamton. I've never been to Europe before, so I figured I should take advantage of the time off. I'm most excited to visit the Globe Theatre and see a play there, because when I was in high school I loved studying and performing Shakespeare."
Could you share a story from your last year here?
"I'm a huge Patriots fan, so every year of college for me has been a rollarcoaster of sports-related emotions. My best friend, who I met my freshman year at Binghamton, is a lifelong Eagles fan. Every year, the joke was that she was the one friend who I would never see in a Super Bowl, so there was never any football smack-talking to be had between us. This past Super Bowl, I preemptively bought some champagne before the game -- I jinxed it, I know now. As the game was finishing up and all the people at the Super Bowl gathering I was at were starting to rub it in, I silently got up, got in my car and drove to my best friend's house, walked in and handed her the bottle, simply saying, 'You deserve this more than me,' and walked out. She was very happy. She just got into her top grad school at 'the other BU,' so we'll be living together after graduation. Hopefully, she'll leave her Eagles apparel at home, though."
Photo from one of BUDSA's Excel tutorials from back before the club was chartered.
What does a typical day look like for you?
"It usually depends a lot on the given day, but here is a sample..."
7:30-8:30 am: Get ready for the day, read the news, check emails and get morning coffee
8:30-noon: Classes: Computer science, math, economics and Humor Across the Media with Vaughn
Noon-1: Lunch with friends or residents
1-2 p.m.: Check in at the Student Association office for finance updates, to ask questions about events for BUDSA and for general networking
2-4 pm..: Work on any current projects: computer science games, data analysis reports, presentations for BUDSA, graphic design for friends, writing papers, etc.
4 p.m.: Afternoon coffee and read Pipe Dream (most important cup of coffee of the day!)
4:30-6 p.m.: Meet with groups for projects
6-8 p.m.: BUDSA committee meetings, e-board meeting or tutorials, depending on the day
8-10 p.m.: RA Staff Meeting, Dickinson Town Council Meetings, Student Association Congress Meetings or Knitwits, depending on the day
10-11 p.m.: Hang out with residents or other RAs
11 p.m.-Midnight: Grab a late dinner at Skylark Diner and see friends (sometimes more coffee)
Midnight-2 a.m.: Finish work and send emails that are time-sensitive
2 a.m.: Back in bed and ready for the next day!
Photo from BUDSA's GIM on January 25.
How do you see data science influencing the future -- your future in particular?
“Data is everywhere. You literally can’t do any job without seeing data. If you aren’t collecting data in whatever your job is, you’re falling behind. I think the big challenge for a lot of companies and departments that I’ve talked to is they’re collecting all this data because they know they need it, but they don’t know how to use it, or how to get the most out of it.
The thing that I love about data science is no matter what field you’re interested in, all you need is some ability to analyze statistical data and some programming ability, and you can increase the use value of your data exponentially. I was one of those kids who graduated high school saying, ‘I love everything, I don’t know what to pick’. For me, I saw data science as this field where I can go in and learn the skills, and then go into any field I wanted.
I'll be working full-time at a company that’s focused on healthcare transparency in July. For me, that’s the perfect combination of doing something with my data science skills, but also doing something that actually matters and helps the world. It’s also a startup, which is really cool for me because I love entrepreneurial things."
Where would you like to eventually live and work?
"In the long run, I'd like to like in either Boston, San Francisco, or D.C. I love the feel of being in a city and surrounded by other people, but I also don't want to be somewhere so busy that I can't get a minute of peace to myself."
Think you have a busy life as a student? Know somebody who does? Send in nominations for a "A Day in the Life" blog by emailing email@example.com.
Rachel is a senior English major hoping to eventually break into the competitive world of journalism. In her free time she likes to sing, take cool pictures, and watch a whole bunch of shows on Netflix and Hulu.
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