Adelaide Data Scientist at MIT Massachusetts Campus

MIT’s Bigdata Living Lab in Adelaide is a melting pot of the smartest minds: and now the favor has returned, with one of South Australia’s brightest talents on the MIT Media Lab’s campus in Massachusetts.

Since the doors of MIT’s Bigdata Living Lab in Adelaide opened in 2019, some of South Australia’s brightest minds have come together to collaborate on ways to boost the state’s economic and population growth.

And now that collaboration has crossed the Pacific Ocean again, with the export of one of South Australia’s brightest young minds to the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in September. Tobin South, a 23-year-old data scientist, joined the MIT Media Lab (nicknamed the Star Fleet Academy) for a five-year internship as a doctoral student under Prof. Alex “Sandy” Pentland, professor of media arts. and sciences and hailed as the father of modern social physics.

South’s connection with MIT’s Bigdata Living Lab originated while he was working on his Masters of Philosophy in Applied Mathematics and Data Science at the University of Adelaide, focusing on the use of mathematical tools to understand disinformation in social media. One component of his studies involved collaborating with local scientists and researchers on various projects. “One of those collaborations was with MIT’s Bigdata Living Lab at Lot Fourteen, a mix where minds can come together and work on interesting issues, and in particular use data to add value to the state.” , he said.

“One of the main goals for me is that there are a lot of interesting questions in the data that is constantly being produced around us, but answering these questions is not always easy: it takes a lot of work to create systems that add value in return. in the economy and are of interest to people.

During her time at the lab, South’s research focused on how a diversity of skills in the workplace can help build economic resilience and increase employment opportunities. The result of his efforts was to receive a prestigious Fulbright Future Fellowship to undertake doctoral study in the United States. “The scholarship funds the entire doctorate, which is really generous – there aren’t many, especially for the United States,” he says. “You can go to any university in the United States to do your doctorate for five years with the freedom to work on whatever you want.

“I looked at many universities, but there was one obvious choice, which was to work at MIT under the leadership of Sandy Pentland, famous for leading the way in data and innovation in the digital economy. It’s great – I came to Cambridge and I love it here. Much like MIT’s Bigdata Living Lab is a meeting of smart minds, Cambridge is on steroids. There are so many smart and interesting people banging their heads around and brainstorming each other. “

South is using this fusion of fine minds to shape the subject of his still undefined doctorate. “I had been researching disinformation in Adelaide and we were developing an interesting toolkit using applied math, so I came here thinking I would work and expand this, but Sandy’s advice was, ‘Don’t come. not with plans – whatever ideas you currently have, get rid of them. Come here, talk to people, get these minds to exchange ideas and something better will emerge than you could imagine for yourself, ”he says.

“So it’s still a bit undefined. There are some interesting questions about using data to understand how populations behave at scale: How do you design data-driven interventions to engage people in healthy behaviors? Immunization could be an example, as people get misinformation from different data sources. How can you, on a limited budget, help support a vaccination campaign in communities?

“One great thing I work on is how to do it while maintaining confidentiality. Data is a new form of currency in our economy and having data is incredibly valuable to be innovative – but no one wants their data to be exploited. So how do you preserve people’s privacy and continue to use this data to create informative interventions to help society? “

Upon graduation from his studies in the United States, South intends to bring his research and learning back to Australia. “I am delighted to be able to bring the technologies we are working on to Australia and to continue to innovate, deploy and develop within the Australian economy,” he said. “America is developing a lot of interesting technologies and Australia has some interesting technologies, so it’s important to connect these dots and have this exchange of technologies to keep us competitive.”

He also thinks of education and entrepreneurship: with experience in the coordination and teaching of data science and mathematics courses, he wishes to continue his role as an educator at MIT, if the schedules allow. “As a freshman sitting in a classroom, it was the tutors who had the enthusiasm and enthusiasm that drove me to follow the path I have taken,” he says. . “I probably wouldn’t have chosen to do a math degree if I hadn’t seen someone older than me do a math degree, have fun and succeed.

“I am who I am today because I spent many years in Adelaide interacting with some really cool people who pushed me and introduced me to new ideas.”

Sean N. Ayres