With the ubiquity of data comes an increased need to understand how to extract useful knowledge from it, which is influencing and advancing every industry—from health professions to financial markets—in significant ways. Colby students are exceptionally prepared to ask complex questions; a gift from Rick McVey, P’12 P’16, prepares students to be able to answer them.
Colby is one of the first liberal arts colleges to offer interdisciplinary coursework and research opportunities in data science. Building on Colby’s strong foundation of undergraduate research, students from disciplines ranging from environmental studies and economics to psychology and sociology take courses and engage in research projects with faculty; furthermore, students can select an interdisciplinary minor in Data Science. The College is building on this foundation, creating a larger-scale program incorporating leading-edge fields such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language processing, and advanced data visualization.
“Science is no longer about generating data. It’s analyzing the data. Understanding the tools to manage that data is really where the world is going.”—MIKE SASNER ’83, RESEARCH SCIENTIST, THE JACKSON LABORATORY
For years, researchers have been banging their heads against the wall as they search for a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers like Mike Sasner ’83 hope that’s about to change.Sasner—a research scientist at The Jackson Laboratory (JAX) in Bar Harbor, Maine—is at the forefront of a new wave of Alzheimer’s research, which is using fast-evolving scientific technology and data management tools to accelerate the search for the causes of the devastating disease.JAX is a global leader in development of genetic mouse models for scientific research, and one of the research institutions with which Colby has a growing affiliation.
Graduates with these skills are increasingly important in all kinds of industries and research fields. “Data science is gaining such momentum that as savvy students consider fields they are also considering where technology is going in those fields and how that could influence their future careers,” said McVey, whose firm has hired several Colby graduates, including three from the Class of 2019. “We have found Colby alumni—from a variety of majors—to be exceptionally prepared to make important contributions to our business decisions.”
Simply put, comp bio (a very short moniker for a very big field) is the study of biological questions through the use of massive data sets, integrating biological, statistical, and computational understanding. Many scientists argue that computation, or the quantitative method, is now absolutely central to biology, imposing order and providing testable concepts on a large scale. They say that someday the “computation” label will disappear, subsumed into the larger label of “biology” as mathematical and statistical tools become as much a part of the science as the agar, Bunsen flame, and microscope were on a 20th-century laboratory bench. Colby’s interdisciplinary Computational Biology major prepares students for numerous opportunities on- and off-campus, such as our partnership with the Maine Cancer Genomics Initiative and other programming through the Colby Cancer Consortium.