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A Spotlight on IRSA’s Accomplishments

December 14, 2017

Portrait: Singdhansu Chatterjee

Portrait: Singdhansu Chatterjee
Photo by Jacob Van Blarcom, CLAgency student

From holding a workshop on neurostatistics to hosting LinkedIn’s Vice President of Artificial Intelligence, the past months for IRSA have been busy. The Institute for Research on Statistics and its Applications, or better known as IRSA, is a place to foster collaboration between statistics and other disciplines. “IRSA engages all levels of people from within the university and outside of it,” IRSA Director and Associate Professor Singdhansu Chatterjee says. 

IRSA’s events vary based on difficulty, length, subject matter, and research. One set is a short course, which is meant to bring together different perspectives on how to use statistical and data science models. “Short courses allow us to bridge the communication divide between different disciplines,” Chatterjee says. Workshops comprise the second set, which are more research-intensive and dive deeper into a topic. Because the institute explores different fields, they encourage people from all backgrounds, majors, and industries to attend. “IRSA is a great model for interdisciplinary work,” Chatterjee notes. 

Past Success: Collaborating Workshops

Hosting one activity per month, the institute has been able to collaborate with other fields such as neuroscience and computer science. In May, IRSA held a two day workshop followed by a small session follow-up workshop on neurostatistics in September. “This was a very big event despite its little publicity,” Chatterjee notes.

IRSA also held a short course on multilevel and hierarchical models. Experts walked attendees through what happens when you use models such as these, which attracted a lot of interest considering many fields use these models for research. 

Most recently, IRSA hosted a workshop on data science and its foundations, challenges, and opportunities. The conference’s main speaker was LinkedIn’s vice president of artificial intelligence, Dr. Deepak Agarwal. IRSA also hosted speakers from Seagate, C.H. Robinson, and faculty members from computer science and statistics. Dr. Agarwal spoke on how his job relates to the field of statistics.

“Essentially, they use mixed models related to LinkedIn and its followers. The use of these models is a very complex problem for a database so large,” Chatterjee says. While some data is numerical, companies like Linkedin and Facebook also receive non-numerical data, resulting in big data. “Statistics can be used to bring them together in a meaningful way,” Chatterjee adds.

Plans for Future Success

Looking ahead to the future, IRSA will hold its next large workshop on climate change in May 2018. “It will look closely at data science for climate change and its impacts on our planet,” he says. Bringing together climate change experts, remote satellite and imagery experts, and geoscientists, this workshop will foster collaboration to address these challenges. Specifically, it will explore how statistics intersects with the biosciences and environmental sciences.

Besides hosting small-scale and large-scale events, IRSA also offers consulting for statistical analysis, including making sense of big data. This service is available to students, departments, as well as people and groups outside of the University. “There has been a high demand for help with statistical analysis,” Chatterjee notes, “and it works best if statisticians get involved right away. We’ve made updates to the consulting system, so it’s now easier for people to contact us.” 

As the 2017-2018 academic year continues, IRSA is focused on taking concrete steps towards increased collaboration between departments. “Because social sciences are at the core of what we do, we want to engage with other departments inside the University community,” Chatterjee says. Creating a system of working together is important to IRSA and its overall mission. Because the institute’s events have been so successful, Ansu and the department look forward to IRSA’s bright future. 

This story was written by an undergraduate student account executive in CLAgency. Meet the team.