Let's start on a personal note: Which hashtags would describe you the best?
Tell us more about the hashtag.
We decided to dedicate at least two days per week to #datascienceforsocialgood because it gives us a chance to put our data science skills to good use. It's also a way of tackling interesting problems for which we usually don't have time in our regular job.
Let's talk about your professional life: What do you do at Malatec?
We are working on a prototype for detecting malaria automatically with a 3D printed microscope in combination with an object detection model. It's a pretty ambitious goal that involves a range of activities. On the one hand, we are regularly in touch with our scientific adviser, Dr. Stefan Jaeger, at the US National Institute of Health (NIH), which oversees a small research group that's working on a similar project. We also have other specialists, such as Prof. Adrian Hehl from the Institute of Parasitology at the University of Zurich, who we can count on for their expertise as advisers. In addition, we are modifying our microscope and studying the best options for object detection pipelines.
What did you do previously and why did you join Malatec?
One of us was involved with the International Red Cross before coming to HSLU and made us aware of this topic. During the program, some of us realized that we would like to work on a global problem. We are a very diverse team with backgrounds that include plastics technologies, commerce and computer science. We have members with a BA in industrial engineering, a BA in international management, an MA in international and European relations, a BA in business administration, and a BA in computer science. We did so many jobs that it's impossible to list them all here ;-).
Tell us the most exciting thing about your job.
Talking with leading experts in the field who have been working and studying tropical diseases for decades. It’s very inspiring to see specialists with so much experience wanting to help us and being willing to share what they know.
Which data science skills are especially in demand in your job?
In the technical area, we really need people who know about image recognition, data pipelines, Git, Python (pandas, CV2, numpy) and TensorFlow. But we also need people with business skills who can not only coordinate the processes with different research institutes and international organizations but who can also pitch their ideas. In addition, we need solid soft skills when it comes to working with specialists and partners and exchanging ideas with them.
Do you think of yourselves more as techies or as analysts? Or as creative geniuses, management superheroes, or generalist wizards?
We hope to cover all that in our team. Although individual skills are valuable, the most important thing is to get a good mix of the various talents, to develop the stamina for working as a team, and to keep going as a team even when we hit a rough patch.
What's the most memorable thing when looking back at your studies (MSc in Applied Information and Data Science)?
Mastering the tools of the trade. In other words, learning how to program, set up data pipelines, create and optimize models, and learn from solutions that have already been developed. We now have a chance to apply what we know and to do something good for global development.
What are the biggest challenges in your job at the moment?
Learning to make meaningful contributions to the processes and structures that already exist is certainly a big challenge. In addition, we need to understand complex problems such as how to diagnose malaria in the different in sub-Saharan regions and how to design robust solutions for tackling the problems. Since none of us has a medical background, we have to rely on our scientific advisers, without losing sight of technical, practical, cultural issues and the limited resources we have available. One of the biggest future hurdles is getting approval for a medical diagnostic kit. But that's a necessary step for making our solution for medical treatment available.
What advice would you have for others starting in the same job?
Collect some karma points and join us. If you're motivated and can spare at least one day a week, then help us and work on a global development goal. Unfortunately, we can't pay any salaries at this point, but not everyone needs Bill Gates's fortune to make positive changes in the world ;-).
And finally: What new hashtag are you aiming for in 2021?
#prototypebuilt #fundingrecieved #karmapoints