MU statistics competition could help students find jobs

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COLUMBIA — The University of Missouri became one of more than 30 U.S. institutions to host a DataFest competition since 2015 on Friday.

DataFest is a national event that allows students to gain hands-on experience in crunching information from studies and data sources. The event originated in 2011 at UCLA and had more than 500 contestants involved nationally last year.

“In a real-life applications of statistics, one of the challenging things about these large data sets is dealing with data sets that are massive and have complex information,” Erin Schliep, assistant professor in the MU department of statistics, said. “This is an important opportunity for students to get involved with real-world data sets in a relaxed atmosphere.” 

Eighteen MU students are participating in the university’s first DataFest competition. This year’s competition focuses on a data set with 10 million observations.

Participants will analyze data with the help of seven graduate students and create presentations for a panel of judges within 24 hours of receiving the data. John Snyder, MU graduate student coordinator for DataFest, said he enjoys the experience of working with undergraduates.

“You see many of these undergraduates in halls. You see them in classes sometimes, and it’s really terrific to be able to work with them in an informal way and interactively to teach them about some of the methodologies that they may not be exposed to as an undergraduate.” Snyder said.

Tradebot Systems was one of five sponsors who helped with funding of the $3,500 event. The Albert Winemiller Excellence Fund, MU Department of Statistics, American Statistics Association and Google also contributed to the Fest.

Tradebot already hired one upcoming graduate in the competition earlier in the year and may hire up to three more, according to Schliep.

“The kind of tools we expose them to are advanced tools that they would not have really seen in any other context,” Snyder said. “Knowing how to implement them on a real data set are things that can really make the difference between getting a job and not getting a job.”

Schliep said this event is significant for enrollment in MU statistics and actuarial science programs that she thinks will grow in upcoming years.

“We have had a rapidly growing department of undergraduate students, both in majors and minors,” Schliep said. “We knew that getting them involved in some actual real data analysis would be important part of their time here at Mizzou.”

The competition continues Saturday and ends at 6 p.m. Judges will select winning presentations for best in show, best visualization and best use of external data.