Solving real-world issues with data science

Meredith Brown: A Student Journey

As a junior at Duke University studying computer science and statistics, the majority of my classes focus on quantitative methods and applications. These classes have provided me with a broad understanding and insight into the field of computer science and are ultimately preparing me for a career in technology. However, two programs out of the numerous research opportunities offered at Duke have truly sparked my passion for data science; +Data Science (+DS) and Data+. Each program delivers real-world problem-solving and are both engaging and challenging.

I completed my first +DS research program as a freshman two years ago where I was paired with a team of other undergraduate students, grad students, and a postdoc mentor. We initially were taught through a handful of in-person learning experiences and given a dataset to apply state-of-the-art machine learning techniques. My team worked on the classification of pigmented skin lesions which we then turned into a mobile application; an invaluable experience—especially for a freshman with no prior machine learning experience.

Meredith Brown discusses her experiences in data science in this brief video.

Over the past two summers, I have continued my research and focus in health tech with advanced projects in both the Data+ and +DS programs. In 2019, my Data+ team worked with Medicaid and Medicare claims as well as publicly available demographic data to model the projective effectiveness of social determinants of health. That project culminated into a presentation at the Health Data Science Conference at Duke which was an incredible experience to get to speak—as well as meet—with doctors and administrators from the Duke Health system.

This past summer, I worked on a new project looking at COVID-19 data with +DS. We used data from Duke Health to explore the relationship between COVID-19 diagnosis and risk scores for critical patient outcomes. This again was such an amazing project to work on because we were able to work with data as it was being collected by health professionals on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This video clip is from Meredith Brown’s presentation at the summer 2020 +DS student showcase as she discusses her analysis.

Working on these kinds of various projects has been one of the biggest aids in my development as a data scientist because of the incredible opportunities to connect with world renowned Duke faculty as mentors and to gain access to real-world datasets so early into my undergraduate career. I plan to continue my studies in computer science and am now thinking I will pursue a graduate career in it as well thanks to my experience in the +DS and Data+ programs.

About the Programs

Data+ offers research experiences for undergraduates to explore data-driven approaches to interdisciplinary challenges. Each 10-week co-curricular summer program provides students with invaluable experience working with professionals in their industries as well as Duke faculty and staff to produce results or products that address a question or solve an issue relevant to the Duke community and beyond.

Duke+DataScience (+DS) is a Duke-wide educational initiative devoted to expanding knowledge of and facility with machine learning and other artificial intelligence tools across multiple academic fields. +DS offers the course “AI for Everyone” (EGR 109.06/590.06) open to all Duke students. Then the +DS Advanced Projects in Health Data Science allow students who have previously completed the +DS curriculum to continue their engagement with substantive applied projects.

These programs are part of the partnership of co-curricular opportunities within the Duke Center for Computational Thinking. To learn more, please visit