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Margaret Kosmala White Background Wall

Margaret Kosmala

Principal Data Scientist, Ph.D.

What brought you to CIBO? 

“I was looking for a small company because I wanted to work at a faster pace. I really liked CIBO’s focus on sustainability. As a society, we have the data and knowledge to better manage our land. I wanted to work for a company that had a mission that resonated with me. CIBO fits into my skills really well with the combination of biology, agriculture, and data science.”

What led you to data science?

“Ecology led me to data science. I’ve always loved the natural world but didn’t know what jobs were in this space. As a girl who was interested in science and math, I was steered toward computer science. My parents were also computer scientists and because I was inclined towards technology, this was a good fit initially.”

“While working in the computer world in Washington, DC, I became interested in environmental justice and land use. I learned about alternative business models for agriculture, including Community Supported Agriculture. Eventually, I left my computer job and went to work on an organic vegetable farm. But I missed research, so I found a way to combine my environmental interests with my background in computer science. I decided to pursue an advanced degree in ecology with a focus on the effects of human-caused change to the environment.”

“Part of my Ph.D. focused on beef production in the US and the economics behind it. Other parts of my dissertation concentrated on plant ecology and biodiversity. My advisor’s background was in plant ecology, but he had recently become focused on sustainable food production and the question of how to feed 9 billion people in an environmentally sustainable way.”

“It turned out that my background in computer science was useful because a lot of ecologists don’t have a background in computer science. I brought this combination of skills to CIBO because I was attracted to the mix of complex problems, agriculture and computer science within my role.”

What are your primary responsibilities at CIBO? 

“I lead the sustainability team. My team’s job is to develop algorithms to estimate the environmental impact of farming on agricultural land throughout the country.”

What is your favorite thing about being a scientist? 

“I enjoy understanding and explaining some of the complexities of the biological world.” 

What is one thing that would surprise people about your field of work in agriculture/data? 

“The thing that surprised me the most was how much we don’t know about the natural world. We don’t know what all the functions of a cell are. We don’t know why zebras have stripes. We don’t know some very fundamental things that people assume scientists know. We’re better at understanding cars and computers and other built things than our own bodies and the environment we inhabit.”

What kinds of things do you think we should be doing to encourage more people to pursue a career in science? 

“The most important thing is to teach kids that science is a process of exploration and not a set of facts. We have textbooks and tell kids to memorize the content. I didn’t take a biology course until I was in graduate school because to me biology meant memorizing things about cells and molecules and organic chemistry. I didn’t want to memorize things I could look up.” 

“Science is not a list of facts and things we know. It’s about asking questions and trying to figure out the answers. That is fun for kids. I think when kids learn science in a well-taught process-based framework, it hooks into their natural curiosity and engages them.” 

“I also find that people perceive a bigger gulf between scientists and nonscientists than is actually there. For several years, I built and managed citizen science projects that brought anyone who wanted to volunteer into the science fold by having them participate in real science projects with scientists. I highly recommend anyone interested in participating directly in science research visit the Zooniverse, which hosts many such projects and with which I collaborated.” 

What do you find the most rewarding about your work here? 

“I find it rewarding to have my work incorporated into the product, the application that is seen and used by other people. In academia, I worked on the impacts of global change, and especially climate change. That’s important work, but you don’t necessarily see the results. You can write a paper and send it out into the world but you don’t know who’s reading it and if it will impact policy. But here, I come up with an algorithm, write the code, and can see how it impacts the product.”

Press Coverage:

Speaking Events 

  • 2016 – Brown University, Providence, RI. Department of Computer Science. Data science, the environment, and the future of our natural world.
  • 2016 – Arnold Arboretum, Boston, MA. Botany Blast: Observing nature for citizen science.
  • 2015 – ComSciCon National Workshop on Science Communication, Cambridge, MA. Panelist for Multimedia Communication for Scientists.
  • 2014 – Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Entomology, Washington, D.C. Effects of experimental warming on a grassland insect and spider community.
  • 2013 – Adler Planetarium, Chicago, IL. From lions to black holes: How citizen scientists are changing the face of research.

Selected Papers

Catford, J.A., A.L. Smith, P.D. Wragg, A.T. Clark, M. Kosmala, J. Cavender‐Bares, P.B. Reich, D. Tilman. (2019) Traits linked with species invasiveness and community invasibility vary with time, stage and indicator of invasion in a long‐term grassland experiment. Ecology Letters, 22(4). doi:10.1111/ele.13220

Kosmala, M., K. Hufkens, A.D. Richardson. (2018) Integrating camera imagery, crowdsourcing, and deep learning to improve high-frequency automated monitoring of snow at continental-to-global scales. PLoS ONE, 13(12): e0209649. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0209649

Richardson, A.D., K. Hufkens, T. Milliman, D.M. Aubrecht, M. Chen, J.M. Gray, M.R. Johnston, T.F. Keenan, S.T. Klosterman, M. Kosmala, E.K. Melaas, M.A. Friedl, S. Frolking. (2018) Tracking vegetation phenology across diverse North American biomes using PhenoCam imagery. Scientific Data, 5:180028. doi:10.1038/sdata.2018.28

Kosmala, M., A. Wiggins, A. Swanson, B. Simmons. (2016) Assessing data quality in citizen science. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 14(10):551–560. doi: 10.1002/fee.1436

Kosmala, M., A. Crall, R. Cheng, K. Hufkens, S. Henderson, A.D. Richardson. (2016) Season Spotter: Using citizen science to validate and scale plant phenology from near-surface remote sensing. Remote Sensing, 8(9): 726. doi:10.3390/rs8090726

Kosmala, M., P. Miller, S. Ferreira, P. Funston, D. Keet, C. Packer. (2016). Estimating wildlife disease dynamics in complex systems using approximate Bayesian computation models. Ecological Applications, 26(1): 295-308. doi:10.1890/14-1808

Swanson, A., M. Kosmala, C. Lintott, C. Packer. (2016) A generalized approach for producing, quantifying, and validating citizen science data from wildlife images. Conservation Biology, 30(3): 520-531. doi:10.1111/cobi.12695

Mosser, A., M. Kosmala, C. Packer. (2015). Landscape heterogeneity and behavioral traits drive the evolution of lion group territoriality. Behavioral Ecology, 26(4): 1051-1059. doi:10.1093/beheco/arv046

For further articles by Margaret Kosmala, visit her Google Scholar Page:


About Margaret Kosmala

Margaret Kosmala is a Principal Data Scientist at CIBO, a science-driven software startup. Prior to CIBO, she was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University and a predoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. She holds a Ph.D. in Ecology from the University of Minnesota and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Brown University.

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