Data science work sparks interest in public health for CHC senior

Lisa Roberts in front of a shelf of theses.

Lucy Roberts wants to win the top prize in the inaugural Three-Minute Thesis competition, and she plans to use the experience to sharpen her work.

Lucy Roberts is a CHC senior who is majoring in data science. The Grants Pass, Ore., resident worked as a contact tracer during the pandemic, tracking people who were exposed to the sometimes-deadly COVID-19 virus. She decided that her work would be a good topic to follow up on as a thesis topic. We interviewed Roberts about her thesis and her interest in participating in the CHC inaugural Three-Minute Thesis competition.

Do you mind telling us a little bit about your thesis?

I worked a lot as a contact tracer at the beginning of the pandemic. It really got me thinking about the ways that we communicate data that might impede our ability to create a cohesive public health strategy. So, I had a lot of ideas for my thesis originally, but it has grown into doing a content analysis of about 25 to 30 COVID-19 dashboards.

How are you preparing for the Three-Minute Thesis competition as a whole?

I did debate for my whole high school career and have a lot of experience in public speaking, and so I’m mostly excited to get an opportunity to do more public speaking through this program. That’s not usually what our focus is as data science majors.

How are you going to go about choosing the parts of your thesis that are going to be the most relevant and squeeze them into three minutes?

That’s something I’ve really been struggling with. I’m proud of the abstract that I wrote before this project. What I like about abstract writing is that it allows me to distill down why I’m excited about a project. I’m hoping that my three-minute thesis is a reflection of why I care about this work and why people who aren’t familiar with geospatial data science should also care about it. It’s about what it means to create an archive.

Do you feel like this is something that’s going to help you with your thesis defense later on?

For sure. I am hoping that in some ways it forces me to articulate some of these things that I know I can communicate to my thesis advisor about, but try and distill it down to something that people from outside my field can understand as well. Then also to start building confidence and practicing what that articulation looks like in front of an audience.

Why do the Three-Minute Thesis competition?

It’s only a couple hours out of your life. When you’re working on the thesis itself, it consumes you. It’s a very heavy thinking process. It’s you, your thesis advisor and maybe your CHC advisor. So, a lot of times it’s kind of isolating. What pulls me into the three-minute thesis competition is the fact that it is this positive experience about sharing what you’re working on with the broader audience. It is a chance to get excited about that work, as opposed to getting frustrated and bogged down in the nitty gritty details of it.

- Story by Keyry Hernandez and Elizabeth Yost, Clark Honors College Communications

- Photo by Ilka Sankari, Clark Honors College Communications