Reflections on WSDS 2018

Plenary Speaker Aarti Shah from Eli LillyPlenary Speaker Claudia Perlich from Two SigmaA packed session at WSDS 2018Conference attendees Xiaoxiao Li, Claire Kelling, Dhanushi Wijeyakulasuriya and Lizhao Ge.WSDS Presenter Claire Kelling

The 2018 Women in Statistics and Data Science (WSDS) Conference is an amazing opportunity to gain knowledge from the statistics community, build communities with fellow attendees, and learn about how to gain influence in our work as statisticians. The conference was organized around these three main themes, and each talk was categorized as such, although many talks fell under multiple categories. 

There were three plenary speakers and one keynote. The first plenary was Dr. Aarti Shah, from Eli Lilly. She gave a motivational talk about her journey into senior leadership as a statistician. She illustrated the vast set of experiences in the room by having the members of the audience raise their hands if they were students or early in their careers. She talked about how support structures are critically important, and even gave a story of searching through the White Pages during graduate school to build her own support network. 

The second plenary speaker was Dr. Claudia Perlich from Two Sigma. She gave an interesting talk about machine learning and some concerns and skepticism that we should bring into these analyses. She gave another talk at a concurrent session later in the day that was overflowing- many folks were even sitting on the floor! It was clear that machine learning and data science were on the minds of many of the WSDS attendees. This was further exemplified when a panel at the end of the conference was not able to present.  Session organizers found it easy to spontaneously  turn this into an opportunity to engage attendees on topics relating to machine learning! 

The last plenary speaker was Dr. Alicia Carriquiry from Iowa State. She spoke about the benefits and “agonies” of collaboration as a statistician. She emphasized that there will be many opportunities to collaborate in a given career, but it is important to filter to these opportunities to those that will be most successful. Collaboration was very clearly valued by attendees of this conference as seen in the numerous concurrent sessions that emphasized collaborative work. From these presentations we heard from statisticians working with criminologists, engineers, federal organizations, geneticists, epidemiologists, and financial analysts. 

They keynote presentation was given by Dr. Nancy Potok, the Chief Statistician of the United States. She reviewed the recent report issued by the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking where she is a member along with other researchers and privacy experts. She expounded upon her three goals for the future of statistics; improved access to data, stronger privacy protections, and the modernization of the data infrastructure. In response to a question, she made a controversial statement that beliefs are data; that this needs to be studied further. This fueled much discussion in future sessions and during conference receptions. 

It was inspirational to see so many women who are passionate about the fields of statistics and data science and are clearly advancing these fields with their work. It was also encouraging to see panels such as “Important Perspectives from Gender Non-Conforming and LGBTQ+ Scholars”. There was clearly a strong community present at this conference, although of course there is much more work to be done in this area. Lastly, the opportunities for networking and meeting other statisticians in academia and in industry who are doing a wide variety of work in statistics and data science was very valuable. The receptions and poster sessions as well as the information booths and informal lunches were perfect chances for folks to reach out and share similar interests. 

The Women in Statistics and Data Science Conference is my favorite conference of the year because of its emphasis on community, knowledge, and influence. This was my second year attending the conference and I always leave the conference feeling energized. I look forward to attending the conference next year in Washington!
This story provided by Claire Kelling, a Dual PhD Candidate in Statistics and Social Data Analytics at the Pennsylvania State University.

WSDS 2019 will be held in Bellevue, Washington, October 3-5, 2019.

This story provided by Claire Kelling, a Dual PhD Candidate in Statistics and Social Data Analytics at the Pennsylvania State University.

Thursday, October 25, 2018 by Glenn Johnson