8 p.m. on a summer night. The sun had just set, and I was sitting in Snell Library waiting for my request for school discipline data from the Massachusetts Department of Education to come through. I saw that it worked, and I clicked a link.
When I first opened it, I was overwhelmed. There were three files, each of which had sheets with over 80,000 rows of data. These files represented only the 2016-2017 school year; I knew that I could also use data from previous years as well, which would substantially increase the amount of data available to me. Never had the term “information overload” felt more accurate than in that moment. It felt as though everything anyone could ever want to know about school discipline in Massachusetts was before me, but I had no idea what to do with it.
I began exploring the sheets, and soon found that there were plenty of things I could look for. The quantitative aspect of my project quickly started to take shape. Through countless Google searches, I learned about new ways to analyze the data provided. I was excited; this was unlike anything I had done in any of my classes before. While I had done some work with data as a research assistant in the spring, creating my own research design was something entirely different. I had to find my own meaning in the hundreds of thousands of numbers in front of me, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It left me wondering what other ways there were to turn numbers into stories.
That’s when I discovered data science, a new and growing field that focuses on providing meaning to the increasingly large amounts of data around us. Though I’m still interested in criminal justice and education, I realized that the way I want to contribute to these fields is through working with data. I could imagine myself finding databases filled with many more entries than the ones I worked with, and translating them into stories that help us better understand the world around us and therefore make better decisions. As a result, I changed my major to Data Science in the summer. I was looking forward to my fall classes more than ever before, and more importantly, I was looking forward to the opportunities to engage in meaningful work in the long term that the new major would provide for me.
I began my SIRF with the goal of learning about disparities in discipline of special education students, and of learning about doing research in the process. What I didn’t anticipate was learning about myself as well. Dedicating close to three months of my summer to working on a research project free from the distractions of school or many other obligations provided me with some time for much-needed self-reflection, and I truly appreciated the opportunity to find a passion for data science.