A photo of the 2015 Data Science for Social Good fellows jumping for joy

Blog: My eScience experience

By Kivan Polimis

A photo of Kivan PolimisI heard about the eScience Institute in the fall of 2014, during my first quarter at the University of Washington (UW), and was immediately drawn in by the Institute’s inclusive approach. That mention was a bulletin for the spring 2015 Community Data Science Workshop (CDSW), an outreach program run by eScience and available to all members of the UW and Seattle community, regardless of programming background. The CDSW taught participants how to download web data with application programming interfaces (APIs) as well as programming methods for data analysis and visualization.

Unbeknownst to me at that time was how heavily I would lean on these skills to conclude my graduate career. The CDSW was just an appetizer in my experience and set the stage for many current and future opportunities. I’m fortunate to have grown with the scaffolding eScience has provided. With the support of the community, I have pursued diverse interests in academia and beyond through mentorship and training experiences such as Software Carpentry, Data Science for Social Good (DSSG), and research assistantships.

In Software Carpentry workshops, I learned tools for reproducible research such as Git and best practices for writing code modularly. I was even more excited to become a Software and Data Carpentry helper, eventually becoming an instructor, to be a part of students’ exposure to reproducible scientific programming practices. Members of the eScience community practice what they preach, and like many in this community, I have placed projects (including my dissertation) on GitHub in the hopes of fostering transparency, collaboration, and reproducible research.

A photo of the 2015 Data Science for Social Good fellows jumping for joy
A photo of the 2015 Data Science for Social Good fellows (including Polimis, third from left) jumping for joy

A defining experience in my (graduate) career has been my involvement with the eScience Institute’s DSSG program. From being part of the inaugural 2015 DSSG cohort to administrative positions within this program, DSSG has pushed me academically, socially, and creatively. The freedom given to students to design a solution for public and private services aimed at improving the lives of others, combined with Institute’s mentorship and training have been a highlight of every Seattle summer.

Additionally, through the eScience Institute, I worked as a research assistant on a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) project to analyze family homelessness. During this project, I stumbled onto an opportunity to write software with Ariel Rokem and Bryna Hazelton, an opportunity I never considered until we discovered that our research (and other scientific communities) could benefit from extending an R machine learning package into Python.

Lastly, like many UW students and faculty, I have benefited from many of the services provided by the Institute. My questions, big and small, have found willing listeners from data scientists during their office hours. The WRF Data Science Studio’s great communal space encouraged discussion, and even in classes with eScience affiliates I found assistance. Classes with David Beck, Jake VanderPlas, and Joe Hellerstein as well as classes taught by members in my department with close ties to eScience such as Emilio Zagheni, Tyler McCormick, and Emma Spiro, showed me the new opportunities, challenges, and leverage social scientists could gain from adopting computational methods.

A photo of Kivan Polimis holding a beach ball with others gathered around him. Photo by Robin Brooks
Polimis helps break the ice at DSSG 2017. Photo by Robin Brooks

My dissertation would go on to leverage Twitter’s streaming API and approaches developed during my BMGF research assistantship and participation in data science-driven courses. This fall, I started a postdoctoral position at the Carlo F. Dondena Centre for Research on Social Dynamics and Public Policy, a clear mesh of the skills I’ve cultivated within my department and the support of eScience.

I am very thankful to the eScience community for embracing me and taking an inclusive approach to building a data science community at the UW. The list of people to mention would truly include the entire roster of eScience support staff, graduate students, data scientists, research scientists, and management. I can’t wait to see how many more people see their careers take off with support from the Institute.

[This content was lightly edited for clarity and the hyperlinks were added.]