Kelsey Lieberman did a Research Experience for Undergraduates at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in Mathematical Ecology during the summer of 2017. She also did one in Big Data Analytics at Washington University in St. Louis in the summer of 2018.
How did you find out about your research experiences, and what was the process for applying?
The UWL one I found out about from the “REUs in Mathematics” site on the NSF website. The WashU one, I can’t remember exactly, but I believed I searched for data science or computer science REUs. For both of them, I filled out an online application, submitted a personal statement, unofficial transcript, and 3 letters of recommendation.
Can you summarize your projects and what your role was?
My project at UWL was entitled “A Stochastic Epidemiological Model of the Response of American Chestnut Populations to Fungal Blight.” I worked with a partner to develop a stochastic model of the spread of a fungal blight on the American Chestnut trees and how it affected their survival. We coded the simulation in Java and analyzed the data using R.
My project at WashU was “Quality and Fairness of Online Matching Algorithms for Kidney Exchange.” When someone is in need of a kidney transplant, they may opt to find a living donor. However, sometimes the donors are incompatible (due to blood or tissue type incompatibilities). One new option for incompatible pairs is to enter an exchange where they match with another pair. My partner and I built upon previous simulation code and developed a new algorithm for optimizing matches within these exchanges using machine learning. Then we analyzed the algorithm with respect to the overall benefit and fairness to different groups.
In both of these projects, I would typically meet with my advisors a couple times a week and then work with my partner throughout the rest of the week.
How did you benefit from these experiences?
I think I benefited immensely from these experiences. I learned a lot of statistics and computer science skills by getting to focus on one project full time for a summer. I also got a good taste of what it would be like to do a PhD. Additionally, it was a great opportunity to meet students and advisors from other schools! Both programs offered a couple opportunities to learn about careers in the field. At UWL we visited the Mayo Clinic and at WashU a data scientist from Master Card spoke to us. Overall, I had a great experience and would highly recommend an REU for anyone interested in pursuing research or going to graduate school.