Gina Robinson

Gina Robinson

Riverside, Calif.

M.S. Biomedical Data Science

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M.S. Data Science

M.S. Biomedical Data Science

Ph.D. Biomedical Data Science

As a career government finance professional, Gina Robinson always had to take the intricate details of a city budget and show how they fit into a bigger story.

She began to see how important data is to understanding that big picture.

“For me, with data science, it was about looking at data in a way that you could effectively tell the overall story from a financial standpoint and also identify different efficiencies to gain from an organization,” says Robinson.

As she began to consider transitioning from government, she decided to focus on her interest in data science. After a recommendation from a colleague of her husband, she enrolled at Meharry School of Applied Computational Sciences.

With no previous programming experience, Robinson worked hard to learn Python, R, and other languages essential to data science. She also credits faculty for keeping her focused while working full-time and pursuing a master’s degree.

“There were times when I thought about just getting the graduate certificate,” says Robinson.

But Dr. Qingguo Wang, professor of computer science and data science and her adviser, would encourage her to keep going.

“He would tell me ‘you are doing great. You have this. You’ll get through it,’” she says. 

Halfway through the program, Robinson took advantage of her new skills to contribute to a data project related to a grant from the Department of Justice for crime strategy.

“I worked with two data analysts. I was still somewhat new to data science, but I was able to apply some of what I was learning in my classes. I also had a stronger understanding of what was involved with the project,” she says.

The team pulled in crime data and built a dashboard so anyone could look at crime statistics in a particular area or zip code in real time.

She also received the Beacon of Hope Summer Fellowship at Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research. In this prestigious opportunity she works with two Novartis mentors and participates in a project that applied data science to help Novartis assess strategies to recruit clinical trial candidates from diverse backgrounds.

“I was looking for an opportunity to apply what I have learned in the classroom to a real-world situation,” says Robinson. “This fellowship is allowing me to do that, as it is a planned project at Novartis.”

Recruiting people of color to participate in clinical trials is a challenge that became even more difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic. Novartis turned to social media ads as a new strategy.

“My actual project is to use data science to examine the efficacy of those digital recruitment strategies for clinical trials,” says Robinson.

Unsurprisingly, Robinson has found herself enjoying data visualizations – where she can show the bigger story – the most in her classes.

“I really like to create a dashboard or a storyboard,” she says.

Having been on the other side, Robinson knows that a nonvisual, highly technical presentation can just go over someone’s head.

“The visualization part gives you the opportunity to create a story so that you’re able to communicate more with your audience in way that engages them,” she says.