Women in Math & Science

Women in Math & Science

 

Claire Davy earned her B.A. in Astronomy & Physics from Bryn Mawr College [Pennsylvania] and M.S. in Astrophysics from San Francisco State University. She currently works as a data scientist for CVS Health and lives in Providence, Rhode Island. Her talk entitled “Data Science: Searching for Truth in a Random Forest” outlined how she became a data scientist, what data science is, and what a data scientist does.


By definition, data science is studying data to find patterns and trends, solve problems, and take action. Data science is an interdisciplinary field that uses scientific methods, processes, algorithms, and systems to extract knowledge and insights from structured and unstructured data. It aims to unify statistics, data analysis and mining, and machine learning. Data science employs techniques and theories drawn from many fields within the context of mathematics and statistics and computer and information sciences. 

To introduce and explain data science, Davy presented two examples: one in predicting how many sunscreens will be sold based on seasonal patterns and another in predicting whether a coupon will entice a given customer to visit the store. At the end of her talk, Davy concluded, “Everyone has data and everyone needs someone to look at their data. It may seem like a random forest of information but it’s my job to find a pattern.”

 


 

Dr. Joyce Powzyk is a biology professor at Wesleyan University who earned a Ph.D. from Duke University while spending two years in the rain forest of Madagascar [Parc National D’Mantadia] studying the food preferences and diet of two species of lemurs: Propithecus Diadema and Indri. “I am one of those biologists who believe you are what you eat,” she says. “An animal’s body does not lie.” 

Dr. Powzyk was intrigued to discover interesting and unique habits between two species of lemurs. The term “over-marking” refers to when a male lemur places his scent on a tree to cover a female’s scent. Much like the concept of oil poured on top of vinegar, over-marking prevents other males from detecting the female scent and thereby identifying a male to owning a female’s territory. Dr. Powzyk explained that lemurs follow an instinctual travel pattern based on diet and nutrition and mate only once a year. Therefore, over-marking is critical to their process of natural selection. The lemur is a female dominant species and over-marking shuts down their communication system. This behavior and society exist nowhere else on Earth. 

“Nobody else had previously studied these animals because the terrain is so unwelcoming and difficult to traverse,” notes Dr. Powzyk. “It was dangerous, exciting, and extremely remote, and I cannot believe I got paid to do this research. To all of you considering a career in this field, I must tell you it is entirely possible to engage in what you love. It was an absolute gift to be fully supported by Duke’s graduate program and spend a length of seven years completing my research and dissertation. This is the most beautiful and challenging thing I have ever done, but I wouldn’t change a day of it. It is so fascinating to have learned the inability to evolve and adapt is what has kept this species alive. No other creature can survive on this diet and venture through this terrain. It is up to us to protect them.” 

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