UMD Student Nick Thieme Awarded Inaugural ASA/AAAS Mass Media Fellowship

Nick Thieme, a graduate student studying computer science at the University of Maryland, has been awarded ASA’s first AAAS Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellowship (MMF). He will spend 10 weeks this summer training as a science journalist with Slate in its DC and NYC offices. In his PhD work, Thieme applies artificial intelligence to the analysis of epigenetic data in the computer science department. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in statistics from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and a Master’s degree in applied math from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI).

As a scientist who understands and can explain the intricacies of modern artificial intelligence and machine learning methods, Thieme has a passion for accurately describing these tools to the public so that people can better understand technology’s abilities and limits, and can make informed, level-headed decisions in their own lives. Specifically, he has “taught computers to gain semantic knowledge from text data at Comcast Labs, discovered new stars at NASA, and studied tuberculosis at RPI.” He was particularly interested in this fellowship in part to “address the general public’s fear and amazement of artificial intelligence.”

Nick Thieme, Inaugral ASA/AAAS Mass Media Fellowship

In his free time, he enjoys reading and writing weird fiction, weightlifting, and playing video games even though he acknowledges he is probably too old for them.

Interestingly, Thieme did not start at CMU as a statistics major but credits the CMU statistics department for sparking his interest, providing a solid foundation and exposing him to scientists writing about science. “Putting aside all the practical knowledge of the design matrix, thin-plate splines, and dimensionality reduction techniques, CMU stats taught me that a statistician is a professional Swiss army knife. Students in the department were approached by, and encouraged to talk to, hiring managers for TV companies, health organizations, dentists, software developers and video game designers. Every company has data needs and there is no reason to limit one’s self to the traditional.”

The ASA jointed the AAAS Mass Media Fellowship sponsorship programs to expand its efforts to promote more statistical capacity in reporting and to provide statisticians with more media experience. The ASA Committee for Excellence in Statistical Reporting evaluated candidates. A call for 2018 fellows will be issued later this fall.

Find out more about the ASA/AAAS Mass Media Fellowship here.