Graduate student puts storytelling and data science together

A Friendlier World with Data Science

by Erich Barganier ’10

After graduating from New College of Florida in 2009, Erin Craig put her mathematics degree to work designing educational software at Wolfram Research, a computational research firm.

“It was incredibly fun and we took on some ambitious problems.” Craig said. But six years later, she put her career on hold – to return to New College.

The reason? One of her math professors, Dr. Patrick McDonald, informed her that New College was forming a master’s program in data science under his guidance.

“[Dr. McDonald] is amazing and I knew whatever he would build would be amazing,” Craig said. “When I heard about the program, everything just clicked.”

Looking to study emerging technologies and design software aimed at bettering the overall standards of healthcare, Erin applied to the program, was accepted, and began her studies in 2015 as part of the program’s inaugural cohort. “I wasn’t sure where it would take me,” Craig said. “But I knew it [would] challenge me and inspire me and push me in new ways.”

Data science, a field that deals with the organization and analysis of information, is an emerging area. “There actually aren’t that many data science programs. They are just starting to crop up,” Craig said.

While the area is still developing, it is one of the most essential fields of science in the world. “Data science takes part in most of the technical things that we interact with,” Craig added. “It helps [design] cars, recommends music to us, and builds our social networks. We are at a point now where computers are more powerful than they ever have been.”

The practical application of data science drives the master’s program at New College and continues to inspire her. “What is really incredible about the program is that we are working with data from real companies and from companies people have heard of,” Craig said. “You get to practice on real world examples and as you go out, you get to tell stories about data from real companies.”

This experience is crucial, as it helps Erin plan her next career move and gives her an opportunity to experiment with different practices. “I love building things that you can see have an impact on the world. But I also love tackling really ambitious questions that don’t have a business goal,” Craig said.

The open-ended possibilities fostered by the program inspired Erin to organize New College’s first Women in Data Science conference, in conjunction with Stanford University, on February 3, 2017.

“Stanford hosts a Women in Data Science conference, and New College is a regional ambassador,” Craig said. “All the speakers are women and the idea is to give women a space for technical talks. In the morning, we will have technical talks from local speakers and in the afternoon, we will have talks live-streamed from Stanford. The goal is to build Sarasota’s data science and technical community, to bring people together.”

Craig’s drive to help others has led her to considering pursuing healthcare opportunities after she finishes the data science program.

“There is a lot that can be done [in healthcare] with data science; looking at how we can improve the process within hospitals for people and how we can understand our health better,” Craig said.

At the end of the day, Erin’s ultimate goal coincides with New College of Florida’s primary mission. “I care about understanding how we treat each other; how human beings treat one another and how we find ways to build a friendlier world.”