The UC Davis DataLab aims to create a space for data scientists from all disciplines and all skill levels to collaborate and learn from one another. Today we would like to spotlight Ambar Mishra, a 3rd year statistics major at UC Davis, and his story moving through our programs during the 2020-2021 school year–from data science aspirant to successful job applicant!
Ambar first came to the DataLab for our September CA Election 2020 Data Challenge. This month-long event invited UC Davis students and affiliates to apply their data skills for civic good by examining the propositions on the upcoming November ballot. Each team analyzed the potential impact of one ballot proposition, with DataLab staff and UC Davis faculty judging the presentations. The top teams were invited to present at the public webinar, complete with a cash prize and keynote speech by the Yolo county voter registrar Jesse Salinas.
Ambar learned about the data challenge through the weekly newsletter sent out by his statistics advisor. He was drawn to the data challenge given it’s civic focus, “there are lots of hackathons out there, but all of them are focussed on [software] development. The data challenge was focussed on analyzing data and finding the meaning in it, something that can matter for the real world.” Ambar and teammate Austin Chen decided to analyze Proposition 18, which proposed allowing 17-year-olds to vote in primaries and special elections if they would be 18 at the time of the next general election.
While Proposition 18 was ultimately defeated in the polls, Ambar says he learned a lot through the process. He wanted to hone his data skills on real-life data, and have something tangible to put on his resume that could have an impact on the world; something difficult to find in coursework. The skills Ambar developed would prepare him well for future opportunities later that academic year. “I wanted to join a research project group in order to enhance my programming skills. I searched frantically at the UC Davis website and other locations until I remembered the UC Davis Datalab.”
In January 2021, Ambar joined the Hack 4 California research and learning cluster at the DataLab. He said Hack 4 CA specifically appealed to him given his background in student government, and the real world applicability of the projects the cluster worked on. Ambar started working with the Carceral Ecology team analyzing data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to cast light on conditions within prisons, jails, and other carceral facilities.
Ambar’s efforts in Hack 4 CA have centered on uncovering the prevalence of hazardous materials in California prisons. “We hope that our results have a profound impact in prison reform as our project has a variety of practical applications.” There were challenges however, unlike classroom projects, the Hack 4 CA team needed to deal with the complexities of real-world data: “The OSHA public data had a lot of loopholes [missing data] so we don’t know if it was put there on purpose or if there was no investigation because there was not enough information given [in the complaint about toxic substances].” Yet these challenges are exactly why working on applied projects gives students experiences they won’t find in a classroom.
While Ambar continues his work with his Hack 4 CA team, he also started looking for opportunities to apply his refined data science skills during the summer. By looking through the DataLab’s job board, he found a Data Science Fellow position working for the US Government’s Pandemic Oversight. His position is a two year appointment, where Ambar will apply data science to tracking more than $3 trillion in coronavirus relief spending. “I wouldn’t have found it without the job board, it was a big help.”
When school resumes in the Fall, Ambar will be looking for new ways to use his skills. He plans to continue working in student government, where he has used his knowledge of data to explain social media engagement metrics, and try to find the best ways to communicate with students. When asked about possible senior projects, Ambar said he would like to do something related to sports analytics. “I’m a huge baseball fan”, said Ambar, as he explained how he and his friends use data to look at player metrics a la Moneyball.