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Diving into the DEEP with Rice’s Data Science Club

Shreya Jindal / Thresher

By Danika Li     9/27/22 11:02pm

Data Education and Exploration Program is an annual data science showcase competition put on by Rice’s Data Science Club, open to all levels of coding experience. 

According to Vinay Tummarakota, president of the Data Science Club, the program consists of a semester-long workshop series that alternates between lessons where senior Data Science Club students teach curriculum, and application-style workshops where mentors help students apply skills learned the week before. Over the course of the fall semester, student teams develop projects on their chosen data set, and eventually present in a final showcase.

“[Students] start by importing [their] data set, transporting it, cleaning it, visualizing it, modeling it and communicating results to a broader audience,” Tummarakota, a Hanszen College senior, said. “Each of our workshops is really designed to target each of these different skills within the process, and over the course of the process, each of the students is really building a data science project from the ground up.”

Melody He, a McMurtry College sophomore, said she initially came to Rice interested in studying math or computer science, but she decided to participate in DEEP this year after learning more about data science last year and hearing feedback from a friend who previously participated in the program. 

“I like that [DEEP gives] you a lot of guidance. They do a lot of workshops that cover the basics, and then you take the workshops and apply them to your own datasets,” He said. “I feel like that’s a really good step-by-step process of getting exposure to data science.”

According to He, her group is studying a data set about thyroid disease, which she hopes will provide her more experience with data science analysis and coding. 

“Learning more about thyroid disease and the intersection of data science and healthcare is something that’s super fascinating to me,” He said.

Beyond bolstering skills in the data analysis field, DEEP can also serve as a useful introduction for students without prior data science knowledge. 

Caleb McKinney, a Will Rice College sophomore, said he didn’t have any prior experience in data science before he joined the program as a freshman. 

“A lot of people had taken AP Statistics in high school. My school didn’t have that [class], so I came into DEEP not knowing any statistics or data science,” McKinney said. “I knew that I wanted to be a computer science major but [didn’t know] what I wanted to do with it. Data science has been a really popular path, so I wanted to really explore that.”

DEEP also helps prepare students for future opportunities, both inside and outside of the Data Science Club. Grace Wang, a Sid Richardson College sophomore, and McKinney said they both returned as mentors this year after having a positive experience last year, and they found their DEEP experiences useful within the context of other data science roles as well.

“I had a research position this summer at the Rice Neuroscience Institute,” McKinney said. “I really recommend [DEEP], I think it was applicable to my research role and prepared me well for it.”

Wang said she performed data analysis as an intern for the Wellbeing and Counseling Center during the past spring semester and currently analyzes data in the Warmflash lab at Rice. 

“My DEEP experience interested me in the real-world application of data,” Wang said. “Data by itself is too discrete. I really like to see concrete results and know that there’s something more that could come out of my analysis, which is why I went for a computational biology lab.”

Working with DEEP can also provide guidance for students trying to figure out their academic interests. Manasvi Paturu, a sophomore at Sid Richardson said DEEP helped her realize that data science was not her passion. 

“I got to [gain] experience with data science and figure out whether or not I liked [the subject] and got experience presenting at the final showcase,” Paturu said. “I also met a great mentor [who] I’m still friends with and ask questions to, not just about data science and DEEP, but computer science and stuff that I need help with.”

Notably, DEEP does not require any prior coding experience to join. Tummarakota said he stresses the importance of STEM information availability and translates this accessibility into DEEP’s policies.

“When you look at a lot of other organizations, particularly in the context of STEM on campus, they do have a lot of barriers to entry,” Tummarakota said. “I think it’s a really great benefit that we can provide this information for free to anyone who’s interested, because ultimately, that’s what being in a college environment should be like.”

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