I get distracted pretty easily. I read an op-ed letter in the New York Times last week that described attention disorders as manifestations of evolutionary tendencies to seek out stimulating activities. The author insists that people who have short attention spans just need to find activities that they, personally, find interesting, and they can focus as sharply as anyone.
That’s why, instead of doing problem sets, I’ve been building data-analysis webapps for the past 6 hours.
Screenshot of an app I made with Shiny, an R package for building data webapps. stockVis is an app you can build using the Shiny tutorial.
I LOVE playing with code. I realized this past summer that wet-lab microbiology research moves much too slowly for my liking, and switched my major from bioengineering to computer science. Now I can work on projects that I can test immediately, instead of doing one experiment a day (or a week) and spending most of my time waiting for proteins and RNA to incubate.
More than I love playing with code, I LOVE playing with data. The data scientist in me loves finding patterns in chaos of cluttered .csv files of raw data and turning them into beautiful images that communicate findings at a single glance. The research scientist in me looks at the patterns I find and goes “hmm correlation…further study needed to determine causation.”
Anyway, I saw a headline a few weeks ago on the Wall Street Journal’s website, that was something like, “Stocks Plunge Over Ebola Fears.” I wanted to see how true this is, over time. New Ebola cases are still being recorded, afterall, and we don’t seem to be in the midst of a financial crisis.
I scraped some Ebola case reporting data from Wikipedia (taken originally from the WHO), and used the “quantmod” and “shiny” R packages to create a Shiny webapp that compares stock prices for various stock and index symbols to the number of reported Ebola cases in West Africa on the same dates. I’m having some trouble plotting both lines on the same plot, so this is a rudimentary comparison. It’ll look much better when I can figure out how to cleanly plot both data sets on the same plot, with two different Y axes. Also, I’ve got a weird bug where my Ebola cases plot is plotting the first data point at the end of the X axis, but the rest of the points in the correct order (I am using the “ggplot2” package). Anybody know how I did that? Brownie points if you comment with a solution!
Some cool patterns: The DOW index took a tumble around October 13th, and hasn’t fully recovered, which is suspiciously also when the NBI (NASDAQ Biotechnologies Index) started to soar. This is about the time period when the total recorded cases of Ebola in West Africa hit 10,000.
Sadly, a lot of Yahoo Finance data isn’t available through .csv right now, not sure why. So not all ticker symbols are working with my webapp. Play around with it, though, and let me know if you find anything cool looking.
All of my code is available on GitHub. Feel free to fork and play around with it, and let me know if you have any corrections for me!
This summer I had the incredible opportunity to do a 10-week internship at Gilead Sciences in Foster City, CA. For those unfamiliar, Gilead Sciences, Inc. is a research-based biopharmaceutical company focused on the discovery, development, and commercialization of innovative medicines.
With 45 Nobel Laureates on its Faculty Roster, it’s not surprising that research is an integral part of the Caltech undergraduate experience. One of the programs that promotes such research is the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF). There is no minimum knowledge or experience required to participate in a Caltech SURF. In fact, students can participate in a SURF as soon as the summer after their freshman year. It is not difficult to get a SURF. All you need to do is find a mentor who is working in an area of research that interests you and willing to mentor you through a research project. The mentor can work in a Caltech lab, at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), or at another participating institution. Once you find a mentor, you work together to write a project proposal that you later send to the SURF office for review and approval. About 98% of the SURF proposals get approved. This fellowship is a great way to explore various fields of research and obtain real, hands-on experience where you get to apply the theoretical knowledge you’ve learned in class. Not only do you get to work and learn alongside your mentor, but you also get compensated for your time. The length of the SURF is ten weeks, and it starts at the beginning of the summer. However, it is not uncommon for many students at Caltech to continue their research project throughout the academic school year.
Like many students at Caltech, I suffer from a slight boba addiction, where side effects may include over caffeination, minor sugar highs, and of course, a large toll on one’s wallet. This addiction is not helped by the fact that there are at least three boba shops within walking distance of campus. So, after an entire term’s worth of boba runs, I came back from winter break with a new year’s epiphany: it was time to get a job. Rather than try to curb my addiction, I decided to find a way to subsidize it.
Research at Caltech looks different for every student, and can often vary term by term. As a chemistry major, my course requirements are on the lighter side for a Caltech major, and many chemistry majors take advantage of the lighter course load to join research groups. This can be whenever the student wants, but many people join labs during their freshman or sophomore years. Some may work in one lab only, and some may switch between labs during the course of their undergraduate studies, depending on if their interests change.