UBC Engineering Physics students beat out Ivy League competitors for Citadel West Coast Data Open win

Engineering Physics team Clockwise from top left: Peter Ye (University of Southern California MSBA), Jason Zhou (UBC EngPhys), Ben Huckell (UBC EngPhys), Mark Wang (UBC MSc)

The following article originally appeared on the UBC Engineering Physics website.

The Citadel West Coast Regional Data Open is one of western North America’s most renowned data science-focused competitions. Hosted by one of the world’s largest hedge funds, the weeklong competition challenges participating teams to find hidden trends and present insights when given large and complex datasets.

Last week, our team of four was fortunate enough to compete among the 100 people selected for this event out of the 1000-plus who applied. Against a field filled, to a large degree, with graduate-level students from top universities such as Stanford, Caltech and Ivy League schools, we were happy and humbled to win the entire event!

For this datathon, we were given the intriguing challenge of finding trends in the transmission of COVID-19. Inspired by the ongoing events and emerging trends over the past year, our team decided to tackle the complex topic of quantifying pandemic-related misinformation and misconceptions in the United States, and the effects of such phenomena. 

Mindful that “correlation is not causation”, our team focused on finding causal links in our diverse data on COVID statistics, mobility, misinformation and socioeconomic/material conditions. We wanted not only to prove that these points were related, but also to describe the causal relationships that are at play in complex social systems and can be accurately portrayed and predicted using mathematical models.

In the end, our exploration identified groups that were particularly susceptible to misinformation and quantified the vulnerabilities of different demographics to different types of misinformation. Based on this, we were able to give insights and recommendations on the state level on how misinformation is driving COVID transmission, as well as how and what authorities can focus resources on to combat this. 

During this week of strenuous data analysis, visualization and presentation, we found that both the mathematical foundation and the presentation/documentation skills we’ve built up in the Engineering Physics program gave us a noticeable edge. We’re incredibly proud of how our team performed, and thankful for the time, commitment and effort that each of us put into this competition. Achieving this result amongst all the talented teams truly took a dedicated team effort and the best out of all of us.

The best thing is, the journey for our team is not done! Winning the event meant an invite to the global data open finals later this year, where we cannot wait to compete against the top teams from around the world who won their respective regions.