What led you to data science?
“My interest has been in applying data science skills to different problems that primarily fall in a scientific domain. I wanted to take data and apply it to scientific applications. Before CIBO, I was pursuing a Masters at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and as part of my research, I worked with a team of biologists at Cornell to help them study how birds migrate across the US using weather radar data. We were trying to identify the roosting locations of tree swallows to understand their migration patterns throughout the year. The goal was to build tools that allow us to monitor bird populations and how various environmental factors might impact them.”
“I also like learning about astronomy and have done project work with data obtained from modern telescopes to help identify astronomical objects such as stars, galaxies, and supernovae. Astronomical datasets are often terabytes in size and you need machine learning-based tools to process these datasets and generate meaningful results. I also volunteer with a research lab in astronomy where we use machine learning to study gravitational lensing from telescope images. This in turns helps improve my data science and computer vision skills.”
What is your favorite thing about being a data scientist?
“I transitioned into this field less than a year ago. I initially joined CIBO as a software engineer, then transitioned into a data scientist. I’m new to the field, so the process itself is exciting – coming up with a question to answer, looking at how we can use the data to test our hypothesis, performing analysis to get results, and finally creating visualizations to communicate those results.”
“For example, here in the remote sensing team, we are working to improve our reliability maps. When we make some improvements to our model we try and generate visualizations, such as a map of reliability scores for multiple states in the US. We use these maps to explain the high-level insights. For instance, the presence of a water body, such as a river nearby may improve the reliability of that land and result in a higher score. The visualizations make it easier for people to understand these ideas that may otherwise be difficult to communicate.”
What is one thing that would surprise people about your field of work in data?
“As someone without a background in agriculture, I’m surprised how data-intensive the field is. I was amazed to find that combines are equipped with sensors to track its location on the field as well as to measure the rate at which grains are falling into the combine. Family farm groups that hire expert agronomists, whom I call farmer data scientists, to work with the data, clean it and process it. So clearly farming is a lot more complicated than planting and harvesting, which is what my naive self thought.”
What kinds of things do you think we should be doing to encourage more people to pursue a career in science?
“I think it would definitely help to spend more effort on public outreach and education about the importance of science in our daily lives. I believe there’s never been a better time to be a scientist than now. We are connected as a species like never before, thanks to the internet. We have the resources to solve important problems in the world, thanks to technology. We just need to be creative in our minds and be motivated to produce scientific solutions to those problems. This is not always easy because of the excess of bad/negative things shown in today’s media. We as individuals need to realize that there are a lot of good things happening, especially in science. We are making new breakthroughs, inventing new cures for diseases, designing new technologies that can fundamentally change our lives. Encouraging people to adopt a positive mindset towards science would be a good way to have them like the field and want to get involved.”
How are you involved in the local science community?
“I am one of the organizers of a local data science meetup group, very creatively named the Boston Data Science meetup. Once a month, I lead a book club meeting, where we pick a book on machine learning that we are interested in reading, go through it and discuss our thoughts about it. The book club is reasonably popular, at one point, we had over 40 people joining us. It helps to build a community of people from different industries and network around data science topics.”
What brought you to CIBO?
“I came to CIBO because I was interested in applying data to scientific applications. The focus of the company in agriculture aligned well with my career aspirations. I also came because I had just graduated and was looking for a job, but I stayed because the work environment was conducive to research and growth and it aligned with my personal goals of working in a scientific field.”
What are your primary responsibilities at CIBO?
“I’m a Data Scientist on the Remote Sensing team. I work on improving our remote-sensing products. I’ve chiefly worked on stability/reliability maps and expanding their reach to include crops like cotton and wheat. I’ve also worked on tools that allow us to generate these maps and scores at scale across the US. Other than that I’m also involved in the Data Science Journal club, where we look at how we apply the latest research in Data Science, Machine Learning and Computer Vision to build tools that will help CIBO in the long term.”
What do you find the most rewarding about your work here?
“The freedom to pursue independent research – bring your own ideas on how you can improve the product and get a chance to explore them for a reasonable length of time. CIBO also provides the opportunity for personal development and shape your career the way you want it. I am from an Engineering background, transitioning into Data Science. I really wanted to improve my stats skills since it was important for my current job and future career. CIBO has allowed me to dedicate time to pursue online courses and even sponsored course subscriptions wherever needed.”
About Pankaj Bhambhani
Pankaj Bhambhani is a Data Scientist at CIBO, a science-driven software startup. He holds a B.Tech in Information and Communication Technology from Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology and a Masters in Computer Science from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.