Big Data Workshop is a Bridge for an International Partnership

By Xochitl Rojas-Rocha

Participants of the Big Data Summer Camp listen to a presentation.

This month, three researchers traveled from Mumbai, India to UC San Diego for a week-long workshop all about big data. Their participation is part of an ongoing partnership between UC San Diego’s Center on Gender Equity and Health (GEH) and the International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS).

Back in 2017, GEH and IIPS received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and established the GENDER Project to tackle important issues in gender equity and public health. Researchers from each side have since combined their talents to analyze datasets from demographic surveys in India. But with more than 700,000 data points representing an entire country, researchers needed new techniques that could handle a dataset this large.

At the university’s invitation, Assistant Professor Kaushalendra Kumar and post-doctoral researchers Praveen Chokhandre and Ajit Kumar Yadav flew in to attend the Big Data Summer Camp at the Qualcomm Institute. It taught exactly the sort of methods they needed to advance their study. Moreover, what they learned could eventually translate into business, policy and the social sciences.

“We were excited to have our IIPS colleagues here, because we knew that the techniques they were learning could make their data into something that government and state programs could act on,” said Anita Raj, co-director of the GENDER Project. Raj and fellow researcher Lotus McDougal co-lead the collaboration with IIPS, with a special focus on improving the health and status of women and girls.

For one week, Kumar, Chokhandre and Yadav learned strategies for data visualization and model development and evaluation at the Big Data Summer Camp. Kumar recalled that the sessions offered unique techniques that were unavailable with conventional software, including regression and decision trees, predictive modeling and cluster analysis. With clustering, in particular, he can organize datasets to identify specific factors affecting the health of mothers and children in India.

“The Qualcomm Institute has a long-term interest in using technology to study issues in society,” said Ramesh Rao, the institute’s director. “We are excited to have the chance to share our knowledge and learn from our international colleagues.”

The researchers from IIPS will return to UC San Diego in November 2019. In the meantime, they are sharing their knowledge with others at their institute and working with GEH to plan out the future of the GENDER Project.

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