Data Science and Decisions student
Third year Bachelor of Data Science and Decisions student Kathryn Dalton talks to us about her experiences of the degree and university life. Kathryn, who is a Data Science and Decisions Ambassador for 2021, also reveals her hobbies, her tips for staying happy and sane during long stretches of online learning, and her plans for the future.
You are one of our Data Science and Decisions Ambassadors this year. Can you tell us what prompted you to apply for the program?
Since I arrived at UNSW, I've really enjoyed my time here - both the Data Science degree and the uni experience overall. I applied to the Ambassador program so I could communicate this passion and give back to the community, and I've enjoyed my time with it so far!
As an Ambassador, you were involved in our 2021 Girls Do the Maths program – both the on-campus event, and the online version which you co-hosted. What were those experiences like?
In short, the GDTM program reaches out to high school girls interested in further study of mathematics. As a helper, I was involved in answering student questions, facilitating activities and overall being a helpful, friendly face for UNSW Maths and Stats. It was so rewarding to see the students inspired, curious and learning, and I'm happy that I could contribute to that.
You are in your third year of the Bachelor of Data Science and Decisions. What initially appealed to you about this degree?
In high school, I knew I would end up doing something scientific. I sort of fell into maths, as my maths studies were accelerated for most of my time at high school (I had also considered medicine, but concluded I was far too squeamish). Fortunately for me, I really liked maths! I found the problem-solving essence of it a welcome reprieve from my other subjects, which I found memorisation-heavy (although you can't blame them).
I hadn't seriously considered the Data Science and Decisions degree until I was invited to a Co-op Scholarship interview for it. I didn't get the scholarship; however, I was convinced on the degree. In hindsight, I'm quite glad this rather serendipitous opportunity happened. In particular, I'd have never gotten a taste for computer science had I not done this degree. I was completely oblivious to the field before turning up to my first COMP1511 lecture absolutely petrified, but it's something I now quite enjoy!
More broadly, the Data Science and Decisions degree has led me down a path I really enjoy. You're predicting the future, but with maths. I feel like I'm equipping myself to better understand the world; however, I think that's the point of learning in general.
What’s been your favourite course so far, and why?
I can't confirm absolute favourites, but Discrete Mathematics/MATH1081 is definitely up there. My first-ever university class was a MATH1081 tutorial, and from there, I was fascinated. Not just its content, but its style of maths is just so different to high school maths. You're still solving problems, but it's less compute-100-integrals and more logical, almost creative. The difference is really jarring, but also intensely refreshing. On top of that, it was also taught fabulously. It set an excellent tone for my continued studies, and it's exposed me to whole fields of maths I'd love to look into further.
Do you have any good tips for staying focused, healthy, and happy during these long stretches of online learning? What has worked for you?
"Good" is, of course, subjective, but I have a few principles which are keeping me going.
I find myself walking a lot - it's my primary mode of transportation. When I had class on campus, I'd usually walk there, and I found it really helped to clear my head and focus before learning. Even when I'm not going anywhere in particular, I like to walk to spend time taking in the world and being alone with my thoughts. More generally, it's a way for me to take solid mental breaks from uni, deliberately occupying my brain with something else.
As an alternative to the ubiquitous suggestion of establishing a routine, I've just been writing down what I do and when I do it throughout the day. Think of it like a retroactive schedule. It gives me more freedom throughout the day, but it still motivates me to get things done.
Moreover, writing in general has helped me both get things done and express myself (I handwrote these answers before typing them in). Something about sitting in front of a piece of paper and steadfastly moving a pen across the page I find meditative, even cathartic. Writing through my thoughts also helps me make better sense of myself.
A few shorter helpful things to round off: finding a hobby (for me it was cooking), making time for the people in my life I value and just doing things I've always been meaning to do - if not now, when?
I know you have an interest in music and play an instrument. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Absolutely! I've played the cello for about eight and a half years now; the last two and a half of which I've spent with the UNSW Orchestra (and its various socially-distanced incarnations). I really enjoy playing music, particularly as part of a larger group - the sound is just so huge, and it's empowering to be a part of something that big. In Orchestra, I also get the chance to stretch myself with challenging repertoire, learn more about music and meet people from all over the uni. Even to just listen to live music every week makes the experience worthwhile.
Outside of Orchestra, I'm listening to music most of the time and I'm taking music theory courses for the General Education component of my degree. Music has so much expressive power and engaging with it seriously enriches my life.
Do you have a favourite book?
I've several - every book has a different purpose, a different context, different effects on a reader. It's impossible to pick one. A few of mine:
- "A Clockwork Orange", Anthony Burgess - by no means a comforting read, nor an easy one, but a rewarding and philosophically enlightening read which continues to inform how I see the world.
- "Everything Is Illuminated", Johnathan Safran Foer - I absolutely adore Foer's prose in this book. In addition, the sheer enormity of the narrative, and Foer's success in pulling it off, still leaves me in awe.
- "The Flavour Thesaurus", Niki Segnit - as the title suggests, less of a cookbook and more of a kitchen reference, a guide to mixing flavours. It's my go-to when I'm looking for kitchen inspiration or if I want to make an instrument really shine. It's also seriously well-written - the sections all lead into one another, and I often find myself reading a few just for the sake of it.
Of your experiences at UNSW over the past two+ years, what have you found to be the most:
- wonderful? - challenging?
The most wonderful thing about my time at UNSW so far is the absolute scale of everything. There's just so much going on - so much to learn and to experience, and so many people to meet. I had come here from a small school in a small town, so that buzz of movement and knowledge and life always fascinates me.
I also find this sense of movement double-edged - sometimes, it's like you're being swept down a river, unable to drop an anchor.
Making friends and keeping on top of my work are two things I've found challenging, and the pandemic hasn't helped. Still, you can find people who really get you, and you can do things your own way, so the challenge is worth it, I think.
You’re getting close to the end of your studies. Do you have any post-uni plans (career or otherwise) that you are willing to share with us?!
Oh don't remind me - my resume isn't writing itself. I definitely plan on doing Honours next year. After that, I don't quite know. I like the idea of research, but I feel it would need to be something I really, really wanted to do if I were to pursue it further. Equally, I could see myself in industry. Ask me in a year; hopefully I'll have an answer!
Beyond career things, I'd love to spend some time abroad. Naturalising somewhere is one of the few things on my bucket list, and I feel like the weather in Australia is just too nice. Something about the idea of throwing myself into a slightly different culture and simply going with the flow there just does it for me. Wherever I am, I also want to make sure I'm always learning - reading books, listening to music, seeing art, just enjoying all the beautiful things this world has to offer.
Images from top: Kathryn Dalton; A/Prof Jan Zika and Kathryn co-hosting Girls Do the Maths Online in June 2021.