November 20, 2019
Carey is a UC Irvine researcher in neuroscience. More specifically she studies the visual parts of the brain in mice. She also has a side project where she has been learning about university students, their learning styles and career motivations. As part of her work, she uses R a lot for data exploration, statistical analysis, data visualization and some simple modeling.
1) What does data science mean to you? Data science means to explore, analyze and think critically about data and to be able to to glean meaningful insights from data. This is what I do day in and day out as a neuroscientist; so I dare count myself as a data scientist! In biology, we deal with a lot of unpredictable/dirty data, so we get training in handling those types of data as well. The key is to be able to make evidence-supported conclusions based on the analyses and make those conclusions understandable and useful to both experts and lay people.
2) What do you think is the biggest challenge facing data science today? As with any new field, data science has yet to develop its identity as a discipline. As with any fast growing and in-demand field, there is so much new technology being developed and many people appear to be jumping on the newest and hottest techniques without careful thinking about what advantages those new tools bring to the table that is miles ahead of existing ones. Throwing models at a problem without doing careful data exploration appears to be a common pitfall.
3) How did you get started in the data world? As an undergraduate in biopsychology (another word for neuroscience) at UBC in Canada, I was exposed to a lot of undergraduate research and I participated in research both as a research assistant and a study subject. I became mesmerized by the beauty of experimentation, new knowledge and the brain. There really is nothing more fascinating than the human brain! This interest naturally led me to do a Ph.D. in neuroscience. I am now on the job market for faculty positions in research-intensive universities, hoping to start my own lab, train the next generation of young minds and data scientists.
4) What is your work day like? I read a lot of scientific literature, form hypotheses about what might be going on in the brain in a particular context, for example in a visual disorder called amblyopia (lazy eye). I design experiments to answer the questions I come up with. I perform the experiments, gather the data, analyze them and write papers about them. I also present at conferences, give talks and mentor students. I also write grants, review other peoples’ grants and papers too. There is a lot of espresso drinking that goes on!
5) What is your favorite childhood toy? And why? I wasn’t really big on toys. But my favourite childhood activity was singing, dancing and dressing up. I used to organize free dancing lessons with my neighborhood friends and tried to recruit other kids for the lessons but I don’t think we ever got a student, lol! We performed for ourselves (and maybe our moms if they were around) and it served as an outlet for the creative energy that was always bubbling up during childhood.