“As soon as I came across Rights CoLab’s project reports, I was taken by the fresh and ingenious approach of using natural language processing techniques to tackle complex societal issues.”

Yuwen is the data team’s Project Coordinator, a role she has held since August 2022. In December she earned an MS in data science at Columbia University. She continues to coordinate the data team while working full time as data scientist for a startup company in the energy sector.

Rights CoLab: What led you to study data science?

When I first started undergrad at the University of Michigan I was a math major, but after a couple of semesters I came to feel that the subject was too stringent: every math question has an exact answer. Then I took a regression analysis class and completely fell in love with data science – for its flexibility in solving problems. In that class, we were assigned a project to predict Yelp ratings, and everyone came up with different data processing methods and machine learning models. Some students used bag-of-words to transform text, some used TF-IDF, some used simple linear regression to make predictions, and some used deep-learning neural network models. The beauty of data science is that it combines theoretical understanding with a layer of creative thinking and innovation. There is no right or wrong answer.

Rights CoLab: Tell us what brought you to the Rights CoLab data science project.

I was excited for the opportunity to apply my data science knowledge to generate solutions to difficult social problems. I know that I come from a very privileged background – to be able to travel abroad and study at Columbia, one of the most expensive schools located in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Many people can’t afford to be in my position or, even worse, don’t even have their basic rights protected. As soon as I came across Rights CoLab’s project reports, I was taken by the fresh and ingenious approach of using natural language processing techniques to tackle complex societal issues. I saw the project as an excellent opportunity for me to learn more about the issues surrounding working conditions and labor protections. The project has also made me aware of the ways that I can use data science to help those in need – in this case, by producing findings that can be adapted by standard setters to improve upon how businesses treat their workers. I feel a part of something bigger than myself and able to make a tangible difference in people’s lives.

Rights CoLab: What is your role in the Project?

As Project Coordinator, I assign roles and responsibilities across team members, and coordinate the meetings. I also write code, conduct analysis of our results, and am coordinating and contributing to the write up of our findings.

Rights CoLab: Is the project what you expected when you joined it? Were there any surprises?

There’s a lot more manual work required than I was expecting. I have always seen data science as a tool to make research easier, but with this project after filtering data sets we need to read through all the text results to identify false positives and eliminate them. In fact, this step in our data science process has become the one that interests me the most, as it has made me aware of crucial issues that I hadn’t known about, particularly around the impacts on people of corporate buying practices. For example, when I was going through articles on the Social Science Research Network (SSRN), I discovered a fascinating paper that delves into the connection between “piece-rate” compensation schemes and their adverse impact on worker health and safety. The study highlights the tendency of workers to push themselves beyond their limits under this payment scheme, leading to severe health and safety harms. I had never before considered the correlation between these two factors.

Rights CoLab: You graduated in December 2022 and started working right away.  Is there anything from the project work that you have been able to bring to your new professional career?

I work for an energy trading start-up called Five Dimensions Energy as their trading analyst. I do a lot of supporting tasks for traders including data collection, data analysis, and data forecast. Part of my job for the Rights CoLab project is to write scrapers to automate the download of articles. I have to do something similar in my work at the company, and the knowledge of writing website scrapers for this project helped a lot.

Rights CoLab: Do you have any hobbies that can be pursued through your professional career in data science?

I love fashion! I spent a lot of time during undergrad modeling and working for college magazines. Here I am in the magazine called MAE (Instagram @officialmaemag). ​​I’m super excited to be on the cover of their FIRST issue. I had a lot of fun working with all the photographers that day! However, since grad school I don’t get involved as much because I’m busy. My biggest dream is to work as a data scientist at a fashion company (or just be a model 😀).


About the photo: “My grumpy yet endearing cat, Choe Choe. He demands constant attention, but I wouldn’t have it any other way – he’s my big baby and I love him unconditionally.”