The story behind the data

Thursday, April 15, 2021

When Chris Salahub learned he could explore his passion for data in a dedicated math faculty at Waterloo, the high schooler had an easy decision to make. Just two years after graduation, when he was on the verge of finishing a master’s degree in Switzerland, he decided to return for a second degree. “About halfway through my master’s, I realized I wanted to do a PhD,” he remembered. “It just made sense to go back to Waterloo because I had discovered such a supportive community there.”

Salahub began his doctorate in statistics in 2019. “I’ve always had an interest in statistics, and there’s a soft place in my heart for Waterloo because the statistics department is so active,” he explained. “My connections in the department have been crucial in navigating the isolation of COVID-19.”

Salahub’s work focuses on analyzing data in real-world situations. As a master’s student, he completed a project focused on reducing the risk for cyclists on the busy streets of Zurich. Today, he continues to use data to measure the relationship between two complex things. “If you have a lot of data in front of you, you need to be able to sort through it to discover what’s significant,” he said. “The goal is to use the relationships between data sets to tell a story that goes beyond numbers.”

Although Salahub is using this approach to analyze statistical data for his PhD thesis, the opportunity to explore data sets goes beyond the classroom. “Right now I’m largely working on my thesis proposal during the day, and on the side, I’m helping my dad build a visualization of all the places he has traveled,” he shared. “In my experience, there aren’t many data sets that you can’t have some fun trying to analyze.”

Salahub hasn’t lost the passion for statistics that originally brought him to Waterloo eight years ago. “I’ve spent the last five months focused on matrix algebra and it’s been a great learning experience,” he said. “There’s always something new to explore in this field.”

While the skills he’s building will translate to a wide range of professional roles after graduation, Salahub continues to take things one day at a time. “It’s hard to believe I’ve been in school so long and still have two years left, but I’ve learned so much in this field,” he reflected. “Waterloo has given me so many opportunities to tell stories with data, and I’m excited to see where it takes me.”