Data-driven research: discussions between disciplines

Eight experts came together in September to discuss their data-driven research and ideas at the inaugural 'Data In Our Digital Futures' mini symposium at Victoria University of Wellington.

The symposium was jointly organised by the University’s Spearheading Digital Futures theme and the Office of the Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Digital Futures) to showcase research projects currently exploring data analytics and the growing use of complex data sets in their work.

Professor Steven Warburton, who co-organised the symposium with Head of School of Mathematics and Statistics Dr Peter Donelan, said the presentations highlighted how every discipline is being challenged and enhanced by the increasing generation and access to digital data, and emerging analytic techniques.

“The speakers represented a range of disciplines, from statistics and information systems to biological science, linguistics and education.

“Each researcher discussed how data and data analytics have been integral in their work and helped them discover new ways of interpreting and responding to the challenges posed within their domains of expertise.

“For example, we had Dr Jeremy Owen from the School of Biological Sciences tell us about the research he’s working on alongside an engineer and computer scientist. Together, they’re using algorithms to help identify key DNA fragments in the hope of discovering new antibiotics.

“Later we had Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Pasifika) Hon Luamanuvao Winne Laban discussing how data can be used to assist student retention at universities and help give a voice to Pasifika students.”

Kirikowhai Mikaere (Tūhourangi, Ngāti Whakue) from Te Mana Raraunga / Māori Data Sovereignty Network provided insight from outside the University, arguing Māori needed greater access and say over their own data to fulfil tino rangitiratanga (self-determination).

Dr Donelan says the event’s success has encouraged the theme’s committee to host a follow-up symposium next year.

“Victoria has a strong capabilities in this area, particularly around artificial intelligence, machine learning and virtual reality. And these capabilities are expanding as we look to develop new undergraduate and postgraduate courses in data science.

“It was exciting to share our expertise, connect with stakeholders and open the door to possible collaborations in the future.”