Shakuntala “Lata” Choudhury, an adjunct professor in the master’s program in applied business analytics at William Paterson University, is working hard to take down the COVID-19 pandemic with an arsenal of mathematical and statistical reasoning. She is volunteering her time and talent as a professional data scientist in the international fight against the deadly virus.
Choudhury is principal data scientist at global consulting and IT services company Infosys, where she is currently developing digital supply chain analytics for the post-pandemic era; she is a proud mother and grandmother; she looks forward to teaching another course in machine learning to graduate students at WP, and is excited to start a new project: teaching data science and statistical literacy in WP’s Virtual Youth University next month.
“I have achieved a great feat in my 38 years in the USA, having come from Assam, in the remotest corner of India,” Choudhury says between late-night Zoom meetings with scientists in various time zones. “My career and volunteerism have created a personal brand for myself: A Grandma Who Codes.”
Choudhury has 30 years of experience as a data scientist and statistician in both the telecommunications and pharmaceutical industries, with a specialty in predictive model development using data and probabilistic assumptions.
This summer, she received a call from the National Scientist Volunteer Database (NSVD), conceptualized at Harvard University by neuro-scientist Michael Wells, asking that she apply her expertise to help combat COVID-19. She didn’t hesitate to respond “yes,” and subsequently joined EndCoronavirus.org, an international volunteer coalition of more than 4,000 that develops and promotes community-based pandemic solutions for policymakers, businesses and individuals.
“It was an awakening call to give back to the community, which has given us a lot over the years,” Choudhury says. “During the peak of the pandemic, my physician daughter took care of many COVID-19 patients in New York City; this was another motivation for me to volunteer.”
Keeping in the theme of “family,” Choudhury has been volunteering via the NSVD as part of an extended team that includes both her son, a user experience developer for a healthcare company, and nephew, an analyst with the IRS. That team, led by scientists from the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI), has put together layman-friendly online reports about the efficacy of various U.S. state’s mask laws, authored data-backed guidance for school reopenings, and created a website for people living in India about how each state and union territory there is faring in its fight against the virus. The site was translated from English to Hindi and Assamese—Choudhury’s mother tongue from northeast India.
Choudhury discusses all of her unconventional hours of both professional and volunteer work, peppered with her “work” as a grandma who plans to wear a mask to a small family gathering for the holidays, with a sort of gritty attitude that embodies the University’s motto of “Will. Power.” through and through.
“Life hardly gives one a second chance, so using Will. Power. to fulfill a dream of higher education, serving the community, and still enjoying little things in life has been my motto,” Choudhury says.
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