You are here

Never Enough: Data and Discovery

May 11, 2016

Photograph of PhD candidate Dootika Vats

Photograph of PhD candidate Dootika Vats
Photo: Jack Swift, CLAgency

“The idea of really understanding a topic or the field you are in was always ingrained in me.” PhD candidate Dootika Vats has always strived to understand the details of whatever she was interested in. This stems from her academic family; her father works as a professor and her mother is a teacher in her home country of India. The journey to pursue this understanding has spanned the globe, from India to New Jersey and now to Minneapolis.

After completing her master’s at Rutgers University, she began to search for PhD programs with an open, collaborative atmosphere. She valued working with and getting to know her colleagues and professors—and at the University’s School of Statistics she found just that. “When I came here the first thing I noticed was how much the director of graduate studies at the time, Galin Jones, knew about the master’s students. That really showed me that this was a department where they appreciate everyone who's trying to make it better, who's trying to do work here.”

Vats has been working extensively with Professor Jones on her dissertation research on how to improve Markov chain Monte Carlo algorithms. Her research focuses on improving algorithms that are used to make computers imitate real life phenomena. “A lot of the thing I’ve been working on with Galin haven’t been worked on a lot in the field.”

“In my research you can continue doing simulations for a long time, but there’s a lack of knowledge about how long you need to keep going. When do you stop? When do you say that you have enough data?”  The key for Vats is to take simulations and computational processes and make them efficient, to make them run for just long enough to get the right amount of data.

Vats’ research has been met with academic esteem—she plans to give a talk at the University of Warwick in England and has been awarded the Louise T. Dosdall Fellowship. The fellowship focuses on rewarding women in underrepresented fields with the potential for success in research. “I’ve always had the opinion that if there is an imbalance in a field, either due to lack of opportunities for women or women feeling inhibited, then that is rubbish. Getting the fellowship is important to me, because it says that I am one of those people to get that message across.”

“When conducting research you are forced to think deeply about the problem, forced to question everything you are reading, forced to understand every detail,” Vats says. Her dedication to her research earned her awards at both the American Statistical Association’s student paper competition, and the International Indian Statistical Association’s competition. Being recognized in her home country of India was of special significance to her, “I was able to celebrate with my family; it was a special feeling.”