UC Berkeley graduate students win $100K in international data science competition

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Update 11/29/2017: This article has been updated to reflect additional information from Correlation One, one of the partners involved in the competition.

A team of UC Berkeley graduate students used data science and analysis to win $100,000 in an international data science competition hosted by hedge fund Citadel and talent solutions tech company Correlation One on Monday.

The students, Eric Munsing, Sören Künzel, Jake Soloff and Allen Tang, beat teams around the world, including from Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to win the Data Open championship. Their winning data research proposal analyzed the impact of charter schools on education.

After five days of doing nothing but researching, sleeping and eating, the team found that charter schools overall have a negative impact on a school district’s test scores for the first three out of the five years of data available. In the long run, however, according to Künzel, charter schools ultimately outperform public schools.

The week before UC Berkeley’s Thanksgiving break, the team was given a large data set of educational outcomes and five days to develop research to help improve the future of the United States’ education system, according to Tang. The competition took place at the New York Stock Exchange, said Citadel co-head of campus recruiting Candice Berger.

Tang said competitors were judged over the course of three rounds based on the rigor and impact of their findings.

“The judges felt that the winning team formulated a unique hypothesis,” Berger said in an email. “(They) demonstrated an impressive amount of depth and incorporated additional datasets beyond those originally provided to them.”

According to Künzel, the competition from other schools kept the team motivated. Overall, 10,000 students applied for the 19 regional qualifying competitions, according to Berger.

“It’s very much a competition where the winner takes it all,” Künzel said.

Both Tang and Künzel aren’t sure yet what they will do with their $25,000 shares of the winnings. Künzel is thinking about creating a startup or traveling the world. Their teammate Munsing is planning to take a trip using his winnings, Tang said.

All four members also earned the chance to interview for a job with Citadel, according to the hedge fund’s website.

According to Tang, the team’s formation was unexpected. Künzel and Tang had worked together before, but after meeting Soloff and Munsing at a Citadel socializer event, they spontaneously decided to enter the Data Open together, Künzel said.

Tang said the experience was worth the effort and that he enjoyed working with all the different skill sets his teammates had to offer. Künzel and Soloff study statistics, Tang studies electrical engineering and computer science and Munsing studies civil and environmental engineering.

“I really enjoy doing those competitions,” Künzel said. “I had an amazing team. You have an idea and you really quickly create something. You do all the necessary steps for this idea in a short amount of time.”

Contact Mary Kelly Ford at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @MaryKellyFord1.

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