Students delve deep into data at 2023 ASA DataFest

Thursday, May 11, 2023

From left: Food, Data Divas, and DataCraft

From left: "Food," "Data Divas," and "DataCraft" teams

From April 28-30, the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science hosted the American Statistical Association (ASA) DataFest: an international challenge in which teams of undergraduates work to “find and share meaning in a large, rich, and complex data set.” This year, 75 students participated in 20 teams, with 15 teams completing Waterloo’s intense 48-hour challenge. While teams were limited to undergraduates, they had the chance throughout to interact with graduate students, professors, and representatives of Scotiabank, the Waterloo challenge’s major sponsor.

“A key highlight from this competition was getting the opportunity to network with industry professionals, mentors, and professors,” says Inaara Somani. “It was so valuable and insightful to converse with them about their personal knowledge and experience, as well as pitch our ideas…Not only were these individuals great help during the competition, but it was so exciting to learn new things from them!”

After two days of analysis and presentation design, each team was allowed a few minutes and two slides to present their findings to a panel of judges. Three teams won prizes for Best Insight, Best Visualization, and Best Use of External Data: besides bragging rights, each winning student won $500.

The winning teams were:

Best Insight: “Data Divas” – Vani Singh, Dhvani Patel, Inaara Somani

Best Use of External Data: “DataCraft” – Shreshth Sharma, Kevin Patel, Aahil Mukadam, Jivitesh Wadhwa

Best Visualization: “Food” – Jack Zhou, Jenny Hui, Junyu Ma, Zehao Zhang

Several students cited the time constraints as the biggest challenge. “I think the biggest thing I learned was the importance of scaling your analysis to the resources available and the time constraint you’re given,” Vani Singh says. When she participated in DataFest before, she struggled with trying to “over-complicate” her analysis. This year, she kept things simple and precise, with winning results.

For Shreshth Sharma’s team, “DataCraft,” the competition was an opportunity to think more about how the data they are learning to analyze relates to the larger world. “The most challenging part…was finding a narrative to present with our data,” he says. “We had to constantly remind ourselves to not just analyze data for the sake of it, but to present a story with it.”

There were “moments of profound discoveries, and the interspersed laughter and frustration,” reflects Jenny Hui. The highlight for her aptly named team, “Food”? They treated themselves to a “lobster dinner after the win!”

ASA DataFest was founded 2011 at UCLA, and today more than 2000 students take part at institutions across North America every year. Waterloo has been participating since 2017 (with the exception of 2020). Learn more about the ASA DataFest on their website.