Q&A with Undergraduate Research Project Competition Winner Ryan Mitchell

Photo of Ryan Mitchell
Ryan Mitchell was a winner of the 2023 Fall Undergraduate Statistics Research Project Competition, earning 3rd place among all submissions.

Statistical Science undergraduate student Ryan Mitchell was a winner of the 2023 Fall Undergraduate Statistics Research Project Competition, earning 3rd place among all submissions.

Mitchell — whose advisor was Assistant Professor of the Practice Yue Jiang — will graduate this Spring with a double major in Computer Science and Statistical Science with a concentration in Data Science.

Undergraduate students can submit individual or group projects that were written for a statistics or data science course to the Undergraduate Statistics Class Project Competition (USCLAP), which has separate categories for introductory and intermediate level work. Alternatively, they might submit a spring semester or year-long research project to the Undergraduate Statistics Research Project Competition (USRESP). The deadline for both competitions is Friday, June 24.  Details on submission requirements can be found here.

We sat down with Ryan to find out more about his project and experience.

This interview has been lightly edited for content and clarity.

How did you get involved in the project?

I wrote this paper as my final project for STA440: Case Studies with Professor Jiang. Any time I get an open-ended assignment like this, I always find it fun to incorporate my other interests into it — and since I’m the biggest reality TV junkie I know, it was a no-brainer to write a paper on my all-time favorite show, Big Brother. The crossover between these shows and statistics/data visualization is undeniably my niche.

Were there particular courses that prepared you for this project?

I think the pride and joy of most of the statistical work I’ve done both inside and outside of Duke is the data visualization — I love this creative side of statistics, and I spend probably way too much time refining the tiniest details of my graphics. Because of that, I’d say STA313: Advanced Data Visualization with Professor of the Practice Çetinkaya-Rundel was great preparation for me. It also is my favorite class I’ve taken in the Stats department. 

What advice would you give to students who want to get involved in research?

Don’t let it be a chore… Researching a topic you have genuine interest in can be a very rewarding experience, and you’ll be able to look back at it when you’re done and be like “wow, that was really cool.” I think a big reason why my project did well in this competition is because my love for the topic shone through in my work.

What interested you in the Statistical Science major with a concentration in data science?

My passion for statistics really does date back to my early childhood days. There was something about seeing a number, any number, that just fascinated me. I learned to use numbers as my storytelling devices, just like authors use words. This infatuation led to me develop a lot of niche interests over the years, like analyzing music data/the Billboard charts and, of course, applying statistical methods to reality competition shows. I applied to Duke knowing I wanted to be a Stats major and that has never changed.

What are your plans after graduation?

After graduation, I’ll be heading to New York City to work as a customer data analyst at Intuit Mailchimp, a company I’ve been interning at for almost a year now. Down the line in my career, I have aspirations of working as a data analyst in the entertainment industry — be it television, movies, music, or the like — so I can incorporate passion projects like this one into my daily life.


The 2023 Fall Undergraduate Statistics Research Project Competition was sponsored by CAUSE (The Consortium for the Advancement of Undergraduate Statistics Education) and the American Statistical Association. Information about the competition can be found on the Causeweb website.