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Video screenshot of students working at Datafest Hackaton

A Celebration of Data

First held at UCLA in 2011, the annual DataFest competition sponsored by the American Statistical Association brings together undergraduates from schools across the U.S. to win awards and even potential recruitment by employers.

Graduating senior Bruins on some of the winning teams at 2023 ASA DataFest shared why the competition — and the field — are so special.

I have been very involved in the UCLA statistics community, so I was always curious about participating in DataFest, despite not having a major in the department. I firmly believe that our team’s strength was the diverse perspectives we brought to problem-solving, based on our unique backgrounds.

The changing world of big data has a significant impact on the majority of careers. As an economics major, I gained exposure to data analysis through my econometrics classes. However, I recognized the need to complement my knowledge with further coursework in statistics and data science. The use of statistical models and big data is everywhere, from academia to industry. Every professional, regardless of specialization, has to be educated in this regard to make sure the tools that are available today are used ethically and responsibly.

—ARMAN GHAZARYAN, business economics major with a minor in statistics and data science

My biggest takeaway from DataFest was that data science doesn’t necessarily have to entail very complex modeling. Our team felt that modeling wouldn’t answer our question, so instead we did a lot of counting and making data visualizations to illustrate our conclusions. Sometimes simpler is better!

It’s very important to me that my work has meaningful value, and data science gives me the tools to understand the current state of the world and areas we can do better in.

—AVANI KANUNGO, statistics and data science major

I originally entered UCLA planning to be pre-med. Outside the classroom, I worked at an Alzheimer’s clinic, where I collected and handled patient data. I was struck by the incongruity that many fields, like medicine, collect a great deal of data, and yet professionals in these fields tend to be deficient in the skills required to analyze it. When I started taking upper division statistics classes, I was fascinated by the increasing role of statistical applications in many different industries.

With the big data revolution, I am excited about the possibility of pulling data from diverse sources to solve complex, interdisciplinary problems. In particular, I believe this revolution can transform the health care industry in terms of speed, cost and insights. In my lifetime, I envision statisticians and data scientists using advanced tools like artificial intelligence, machine learning and predictive analytics to create widely accessible, collaborative medical data hubs from disparate internal and external data sources.

I am proud to be a statistics and data science major because it is a highly quantitative, rigorous discipline that promises to deliver incredible advances across many industries to improve the quality of human life.

—PAIGE LEE, statistics and data science major, neuroscience minor

My biggest takeaway from DataFest was the need for creativity and storytelling when it comes to data. Even though we were all provided with the same data set, each group extracted something completely unique, yet somehow intertwined with the other groups. The winners of the competition not only analyzed the data thoroughly, but could also explain why the audience should care about their specific conclusions. There is a story behind the numbers, and it takes more than just simple analysis to bring it out.

After graduation, I’ll be working in the damages litigation consulting field—I never expected a litigation company needed my skills as a data analyst/statistician. I imagine that as big data becomes more readily available, legal cases will be defined by analysis, especially those that involve vast amounts of consumer data.

—KATHY NGUYEN-LY, statistics and data science, political science double major

Ongoing developments in deep learning and natural language processing open many avenues for research. As an aspiring data scientist and computational social scientist, I look forward to refining and utilizing these tools to uncover new insights of use to social scientists, policymakers and other stakeholders.

As a language that cuts across cultures and nationalities, data science helps us bridge gaps in our understanding of each other and the communities in which we live.

LUCAS OPHOFF, statistics and data science, political science double major

My biggest takeaway from DataFest is the crucial importance of teamwork. I learned that when tackling a data insight question with hundreds of variables, there are numerous approaches to consider.

With the exponential growth of data and recent developments in chat assistant AI, there is a growing demand for individuals skilled in analyzing and interpreting large data sets. I believe that people’s interest in big data will certainly benefit my career, but it also means constantly learning the newest techniques to efficiently analyze and draw conclusions.

—RYAN WALLACE, statistics and data science major

I have enjoyed and appreciated how my major has incorporated consulting classes to better prepare us for real-life challenges in statistics and data science. On a more personal note, I have enjoyed being able to partake in a diverse community of data enthusiasts—especially at ASA DataFest!

—SARAH ZHARI, statistics and data science major