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The Joyous Side of Data Science, Perseverance, and Long-Distance Running

Emily Gordon's Journey into Data Science

Emily Gordon's journey into data science might not follow the conventional path. Still, her story is a testament to the power of curiosity, persistence, and a love for understanding the world. With a Master’s degree in Physics from the University of Otago, New Zealand, and a PhD in Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology from Colorado State University, Emily's introduction to data science came unexpectedly during her final year of undergrad while looking for an honors project. Fascinated by a faculty presentation on understanding the ozone hole using satellite observations, she delved into the world of data analysis and found her passion.

"It was really, really data-intensive, but as it turned out I just loved it," Emily recalls. Her enthusiasm for data science shines through as she describes the joy she finds in mentoring students and witnessing their excitement when they uncover insights from Earth science datasets.

Challenges and Pursuits at Stanford Data Science

Joining the Stanford Data Science (SDS) Fellows program as a postdoc last September, Emily brought with her a background in adapting machine learning tools to help understand the predictability of the Earth system. Her current research focuses on bridging the gap between ocean temperature variability and its implications for land surface variability.

Navigating the complexities of climate science and data analysis, Emily emphasizes the importance of refining the key questions to ask, rather than seeking definite answers. One of the challenging questions she is trying to answer is how far ahead in time we can predict the future climate, which is different from understanding climate change. Her goal is not just to understand climate dynamics but also to explore how this understanding can inform human responses to climate-related challenges.

Emily stresses the value of having the Stanford Data Science Community to learn from peers who come from different disciplines and can offer different perspectives and ask questions you don’t expect. “It has been just so valuable to get out of the climate science bubble. I just am having such a great time in the program, with all the other Scholars and Fellows. Coming out of my Ph.D. and starting a postdoc is scary. The Data Science Community gives you immediately a safe space with a group of people that you get to meet and work with, which is not common for postdocs.”

When asked about her top priorities, Emily expresses her interest in exploring the interface between the human and climate systems. While she acknowledges that she's not an expert in social sciences, she envisions a future where she can understand how climate information influences human behavior and decision-making.

Influential Mentors and Role Models

Throughout her journey, Emily credits her advisors and mentors for shaping her approach to science. From Dr. Noah Diffenbaugh's expertise in human-climate interactions to the guidance of her previous advisors, Dr. Annika Seppälä and Dr. Elizabeth (Libby) Barnes, Emily has been fortunate to work with brilliant scientists who also embody qualities of empathy and mentorship.

Looking Ahead, Advice and Reflection

As Emily prepares for the future, she anticipates publishing her first paper at Stanford, celebrating her sister's wedding, and embarking on new research projects. While she ponders the next steps in her career, whether it's pursuing another research position or transitioning to a faculty role, Emily remains grounded in her passion for science and her commitment to making a meaningful impact.

Reflecting on her journey, Emily offers advice to her younger self and aspiring data scientists. She emphasizes the importance of staying true to one's passion, maintaining curiosity, and avoiding cynicism. For Emily, the key to success lies in perseverance and a genuine love for the work.

Balancing Work and Life

Outside of her work, Emily enjoys long-distance running and indulges in the guilty pleasure of reality TV. Running serves to detach from work and rejuvenate her mind, while reality TV offers a lighthearted escape from the complexities of her research.

Emily admits she’s susceptible to burnout. She started running the same year she began her master’s degree—not a coincidence— because she had developed an anxiety disorder and knew she needed a hobby that took her outdoors. Her hobby grew and while she was finishing off her PhD last year, she also trained for and ran the Colorado marathon—a big year indeed!

As Emily continues to navigate the exciting world of data science, her story serves as an inspiration for aspiring scientists everywhere. Through her journey of curiosity, persistence, and joy in discovery, Emily reminds us of the boundless possibilities that await those who dare to explore the intersection of science and society.

Hear Emily present at the WiDS Stanford 2024 Conference on "Toward a Deeper Understanding of Our Climate System Through Data Science."

Useful Links:

Emily’s LinkedIn Profile

Emily’s WiDS Stanford 2024 Talk Title & Abstract

Emily's WiDS presentation, "Toward a Deeper Understanding of Our Climate System Through Data Science"

Emily's WiDS panel on Sustainability with Radhika Shah and Alice Chen Zhang

 

 

Emily's talk starts at 1:10:23

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