Big things next for Harvard's first CSE cohort (Part 2)

June 18, 2014
Big things next for Harvard's first CSE cohort (Part 2)

Bull and Brennan: DrivenData and a Doctoral Candidate

by Anita Mehrotra

So what’s next? In a field as cutting-edge as data science, Harvard’s first Computational Science and Engineering Master of Science (S.M.) graduates have the world as their oyster. But with so much freedom comes great opportunity cost, and the CSE students have no intention of wasting a minute.

In the second of a series on Harvard alumni, Anita Mehrotra sits down with Peter Bull and Tegan Brennan to learn about their exciting future plans.

Peter Bull (S.M. ’14) studied philosophy as an undergraduate at Yale University “and ha[s] always thought about the moral component of the work that I do,” so perhaps it is no surprise that post-graduation, he will continue work on the social venture he co-founded with Greg Lipstein (M.B.A.’15) and classmate Isaac Slavitt (S.M. ’14).

DrivenData connects non-profits with data scientists to enable organizations to get the most out of their data. It does so in three steps: first, it collaborates with non-profits to determine if an algorithmic solution will be useful for its work; next, it hosts an online open-innovation tournament to crowd-source statistical models; and finally, it integrates the winning submission into the organization’s workflow.

Bull notes that the CSE program was “essential” to “getting [DrivenData] off the ground. The technical skills I picked up in coursework, the helpful advice from staff and students, and the opportunity to work on the platform and infrastructure as an independent study project” were critical, says Bull. Moreover, the chance to provide non-profits with cutting-edge modeling is something that is both promising and necessary – there is “no reason that these groups should lag behind [for-profit organizations] technically,” emphasizes Bull.

Bull, Slavitt and Lipstein (who is currently a student Harvard Business School) are excited about what’s next for DrivenData. Most recently, the team placed third at Wharton Business School’s People Analytics Conference (PAC) Case Competition earlier this spring. And, as Bull points out, “I think I’ve found an area where my work can be both meaningful and impactful.”

Tegan Brennan (S.M. ’14) is no stranger to mathematics and academia. Come fall, she will continue her studies as a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California-Santa Barbara (UCSB) in Computer Science. Brennan, who graduated from Princeton University with a degree in Mathematics, had some exposure to computer science but was unsure what she wanted to do next. “It was only after a semester of the CSE program that I decided I wanted to go into computer science and pursue a PhD in the field. The program helped me improve as a programmer and develop a much better work ethic.”

Brennan chose UCSB because of the number of potential advisors whose research areas aligned with what she found most interesting. Furthermore, the university offered her a position to work with a new interdisciplinary graduate program in Network Science. The research themes for the program center on modeling of empirical networks with large data sets in an attempt to understand their “fundamental unifying principles,” then applying these insights to “the design of more efficient, robust networks.”

Brennan is considering applying her love for research in industry post-Ph.D., but she’s “not entirely certain about what [I’ll] be doing in the long-run. I definitely feel that my time at Harvard will help me find a position where I am able to do work that both interests and motivates me.”