What draws people into a career within Data Science? For Marie Coffin, her path in the field began with her love of math in high school. Entering college, she discovered statistics which fascinated her as a way of finding the story behind mathematical patterns. The concepts of storytelling through numbers captured Marie’s imagination and fueled her research and work as a professor at Clemson University, Biostatician at Monsanto and now as a Senior Data Scientist at CIBO Technologies.
What is one thing that would surprise people about your field of work in agriculture/data?
“It always surprises people to find how many women are in the field. Typical Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields have reputations for not being friendly toward women. However, since entering the agriculture space, I’ve found there is a surprisingly large number of women with ag, statistics, and biological sciences.”
What brought you to CIBO and what has made you excited since you joined?
“I was recruited to CIBO by current employees. I was won over by the professionalism of the people and the cool things they were working on. CIBO’s employee base has the technical chops to help change the future of agriculture.”
“I’m excited about CIBO Technologies because I believe we have a unique underlying technology with our crop model. It can be used in many different ways to model crop performance by incorporating environmental factors. Discovering all the fascinating things we can derive from this model has made this an exciting job.”
What are your primary responsibilities at CIBO?
“I lead the modeling team and the development of CIBO’s mechanistic crop model. As the team lead, I look out for the team and ensure they have the resources to succeed. I set direction and priorities for the team, try to make sure everyone works on the things they’re most passionate about, and ensure we’re on track to meet our goals.”
“Previously, I was leading the data integration team. This role included cleaning up and making available the massive amounts of data that are used as inputs to the model. It’s a large amount of data that ranges from global weather patterns to detailed soil types.”
“Data Science is a good place for people interested in a variety of different aspects of science, people who approach life with a curiosity mindset. You’re often helping biologists or chemists plan experiments and understand their results. If you want to only learn one thing, this career probably isn’t for you, since each project brings a new set of challenges.”
How did you become interested in data science?
“My passion for data science began with an interest in math. In high school, I had a teacher who inspired my love of math and encouraged me to focus on it at college. At South Dakota State University, I took a class in statistics and discovered how to use math and mathematical concepts to uncover the story behind the numbers. Using math to find unexpected relationships provided a job path I hadn’t considered before. When I was a math major, I was able to discover new scientific relations. I also found that mathematics was very welcoming to women.”
What kinds of things do you think we should be doing to encourage more people to pursue a career in science?
“I have a couple of ideas on how to promote interest in science.”
“The teaching of science at the elementary and secondary levels isn’t always as impactful and doesn’t always encourage young children to become interested in science. If schools invest more heavily in science teachers who are passionate and can convey excitement and discovery of science rather than presenting it as a subject that mostly requires memorization, I believe it would encourage more people to go into science.”
“Science careers can be very demanding and are less flexible than other occupations. It can be hard to commit to going out into the field for 10-12 hours and on weekends. There are also experiments in the lab that require around the clock observation. Rethinking careers and career progression to be more welcoming of different schedules will be key to recruiting the next generation of scientists.”
Cost of Science Education
“It needs to be said that science education is expensive. If there is more funding for science programs and better science equipment, it will be easier to promote a student’s interest in the field. Advanced degrees are also expensive, and finding ways to make them more accessible to students who don’t have financial support will improve interest in science overall.”
What advice would you give to young people interested in a career in science?
“Science is incredibly rewarding. As with all careers, it can have moments of frustration, but don’t let that stop you, and don’t assume that you don’t have enough talent. If you are passionate and willing to work hard, you will succeed. And the payoff of having a career where you can impact people’s lives and well-being makes it all worthwhile.”
What do you hope to see in your field in the next 10 years?
“Within data science, we spend a surprising amount of time finding and organizing data. It can be hard to get excited at times about delving into data sets. To encourage more people to enter the field, it would be helpful to highlight more often how mathematics can help lead to interesting discoveries in data. In the future, I hope there are new and better approaches to data integration so that data scientists can spend more time on the fun stuff.”
What do you find the most rewarding about your work here?
“The team that I work with at CIBO is the most rewarding part of this experience. I mostly work with the tech and development teams but across the board, I have found the team we have recruited to be top notch. So many of the people here are experts in their field, humble, and driven toward making a better world. Working with people who love their jobs and are good at what they do is the most satisfying thing of all.”
Do you want to join the CIBO Technologies team? Browse and apply for open roles at https://www.cibotechnologies.com/careers/
About Marie Coffin
Marie Coffin is a Senior Data Scientist at CIBO Technologies, a science-driven software startup. She has focused on being a biostatistician at agriculture companies. Prior to CIBO, she worked for Monsanto, Icoria, Paradigm Genetics, and was an assistant professor at Clemson University. She holds a BS in Mathematics from South Dakota State University and a Ph.D. in Statistics from Iowa State University.