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SDSS 2022: Connecting and Influencing Our Society

1 August 2022 No Comment
Claire McKay Bowen, SDSS 2022 Program Chair

Two men and a woman sit at a table in a conference room. The woman is in the center and wears glasses and has long curly dark hair. To her left is a Latino man wearing glasses and a suit and tie. The man to her right is out of focus and looking at the woman.

Photo by Olivia Brown/ASA
From left: Robert Santos, Rachel Levy, and Matthew Heavner at the Science, Technology, and Policy Panel

“Let us come together and influence our society for the better.”

When I announced the theme and goals for the 2022 Symposium on Data Science and Statistics, I wrote this sentence as my “call to arms” for our community. I envisioned helping people make new connections, especially students and early-career professionals, and elevating societal issues we as a profession can address. What we sometimes imagine and what happens in reality can often surprise us. SDSS 2022 did not disappoint in the number of surprises and insights as the first in-person ASA-supported conference since the pandemic started. 

More Connections

Six people stand around an image of a seventh person. The six people are all in running gear and smiling.

The SDSS Running Group stops for a photo op with “Randy” at Randyland.

One conference attendee told me he made one new connection at JSM 2021, which was held virtually. By lunch on the first day of SDSS 2022, he had met three new people. I heard similar stories from many others. During coffee breaks or passing people in the halls, I also witnessed conference participants exchanging business cards or planning to reconnect after the conference. It seems many of us were starved for these professional connections after two years of virtual interaction.

I also want to highlight a fun connection I made—the informal running group. The conference hotel had a running concierge who led five of us on morning runs. These runs were a fun way to meet others at the conference and tour Pittsburgh.

More Spontaneous and Fun Conversations

Three white people hold plates of food and cups and chat while wearing medical-grade face masks. Two men are in the rear of the photo, and a woman seen from the back is in the foreground. She is wearing a ponytail and a fanny pack as a cross-body bag.

Photo by Olivia Brown/ASA
Attendees mingle in a safe atmosphere during the SDSS Opening Mixer.

On the second day, I walked to the local farmer’s market and grabbed lunch with a few colleagues. As we chatted, I told how I used to buy all the baking soda from the local grocery store when working in a radiation lab. My lab needed the baking soda to neutralize the acid before disposing of it. Do I remember how this odd story came up in conversation? No. Would this type of conversation come up during a virtual event? Unlikely. Many of us in that group noted the reason we landed on random topics is because in-person environments provide the space to continue conversations long after conference sessions.

More Dimensions to Take in Information

View more photos on the Amstat News Flickr page.

A colleague at SDSS 2022 told me taking in information in a two-dimensional space is more difficult than in a three-dimensional space. Based on my SDSS experience, I agree. Am I still fatigued after four days? Yes, but the mental fatigue is less overall than when I attend virtual conferences. Additionally, I found myself more engaged at SDSS 2022. When I attend virtual conferences, I participate in fewer conference sessions and often take work meetings.

Looking Toward SDSS 2023

A room full of people, some wearing face masks and some not, some eating and drinking, in a hotel conference room with several rows of TVs showing people's research posters.

Photo by Olivia Brown/ASA
Attendees meet and greet each other during a poster session at SDSS.

As the virtual fire crackled on the screen, Emily Dodwell, a data scientist at AT&T and the SDSS 2023 program chair, closed SDSS 2022 with a fireside chat. To kick it off, she announced next year’s theme: “Beyond Big Data: Inquire, Investigate, Implement, Innovate.” She said her motivation for the theme stemmed from how we as a profession tackle challenges and innovate creative solutions. She then inquired about possible changes the data science and statistics community would like to see for SDSS.

Emily suggested creating a brainstorming space in which attendees can submit a problem they would like discussed or solved. People loved the idea and suggested sessions on investigating new challenges or creating discussion topics.

A woman and two men are in this image. The woman, at the left of the photo, is blonde and wearing a red open-draped jacket over a white t-shirt and is gesturing with her hands. The two white men are to her right. All three are seated behind a table draped with a black cloth. All three wear glasses.

Photo by Olivia Brown/ASA
From left: Rebecca Doerge, Leonard Lucas, and Chris Volinsky offer tips for moving ahead as a statistician during the Career Panel at SDSS.

Many students and early-career professionals found the speed mentoring sessions helpful, but wished the sessions were longer so they could meet more mentors.

Another suggestion was implementing “spice” levels to talks. The number of peppers would indicate if the talk is introductory, intermediate, or advanced. Many participants said they enjoyed the talks, but some talks assumed more background knowledge.

Saying I am excited about SDSS 2022 would be an understatement. I watched so many great talks, connected and reconnected with numerous people, and felt energized for the future. I end my last SDSS article with the same hope as I started with: Let us continue connecting and influencing our society for the better.

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