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Take the Citadel!

Two USC Marshall first-year Ph.D. students win the Citadel Data Open—and $20K. Now on to NYC

November 10, 2017
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What's it take to be the smartest guys in the room? Ask first-year data sciences and operations Ph.D. students Brad Rava and Michael Huang.

They were part of the team that won the Citadel Data Open Southern California region at Cal Tech on Nov. 4.

Needless to say that was a room full of really smart people.

The Data Open is a “datathon” held throughout the year at select leading universities, sponsored by Citadel, a hedge fund and investment firm. Each region’s winning team goes on to the final in New York City, and a chance to win $100,000.

The young scholars heard about the competition and, as they spend much of their time hunched over computers in a small room in the basement of Bridge Hall, decided to apply. Why not?

“Michael and I just thought it would be fun to see how we did,” said Rava. Teamed with Baichuan Yaun, a UCLA student working on his Ph.D. in applied math, and Jiaping Zhang, a master’s student in computer science and statistics at UC Davis, the four arrived at Cal Tech and were given a large data set to review, analyze, and prepare a report on within an eight-hour period.  

The judges then deliberated and decided which report was best in terms of rigor, insight, accuracy, etc. "We were never given a judging rubric so we don't know specifically what they were looking for,” said Rava. “However, we didn't focus on this. We just tried to create the best report we could."

The Winnings

The judges liked what they saw. The team received a $20,000 prize and will be heading off to New York City later this month to compete for the $100,000 grand prize.

"We are all really looking forward to the final round since the format will really take advantage of our different backgrounds,” said Huang. “For me, winning would be a perfect way to cap off an already great trip back home to NYC."  Huang did his undergraduate and graduate work at Columbia University.

DSO faculty members were also impressed, and vied for bragging rights.

"It may of course be pure coincidence that both Brad and Michael are taking the Computer Age Statistical Inference reading course,” said Gareth James, professor of Data Sciences and Operations, and Rava’s Ph.D. adviser. “But the correlation seems awfully high.”