Week 1: Decisions, decisions, and more decisions!

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Friday, June 4, 2021


Zeynep Tuna

My first week as an SPS intern began with a very fun 2-hour virtual orientation. I know, 2 hours on Zoom does not sound enjoyable at all - but believe me I could have stayed for another hour to talk more about bucket hats and listen to staff members’ stories. The rest of the day was filled with back-to-back meetings where I got to set up my laptop (shoutout to Chuck!) and meet some very cool people in the Programs department. Even though there was a lot of information to process and many new faces to remember, the APS staff made these meetings incredibly comfortable and easy-going for me!

The next day, we delved right into the Education and Diversity Statistics project. Aside from the fact that many people use the APS statistics and graphs on race, gender, and ethnicity in the physics programs across the country, this project is especially important to me for a reason: I am a female international student studying and planning on pursuing a career in physics. I haven’t yet had the time to sit down and study the numbers to get some insights on how diverse and inclusive physics programs are in postsecondary institutions in the U.S., but I am very excited to do so over the course of my internship.

Upon meeting my supervisor Michael, I was very happy to see how much we had in common, and it was great talking about Maine, Europe, and being a college radio station DJ. Then came the decisions we had to make, and I am happy I was not making these decisions alone. We talked about which major milestones we should set over the course of these 10 weeks and which products should we aim to hand in at the end. This was the easy part as my supervisor and I agreed easily on the priorities for this project.

The first milestone to accomplish is deciding whether to use the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) or the National Science Foundation (NSF) database for the project. Although IPEDS has been used for a couple of years now, NSF has a more user-friendly interface which could save me some time in writing the Python code to produce the statistics and graphs. Upon completing a comparison study of the 2019 IPEDS data vs. the 2019 NSF data, I was not happy to find out that the data did not match! NSF still seems to be more future-proof and has more data points; however, it still looks like there is some uncertainty in this decision for me.

It was for the entire spring semester that my professor reiterated the importance of making decisions in data science in my Big Data in Astronomy class, but it wasn’t until now that I realized how right he actually is. Another thing he taught us was that there is no right or wrong decision, rather there is reasons and consequences. Now that I’ve got my reasons, I’m looking forward to seeing the consequences of all these decisions!

Zeynep Tuna (she/her/hers)