Giving to Brown

Diving into Data

Data analysis: it’s a growing, diverse business. From fledgling fields like data-journalism, biostatistics and web analytics, it’s clear that data-driven work is the way forward. Jane Furey ’15 is well aware of data’s growing influence in the world. She spent last summer on College Hill poring over scads of Demographic and Health Surveys from Sub-Saharan Africa, mining pertinent information for her UTRA-backed project, “Water, Sanitation and Spatial Inequality in West Africa.”

“I like quantitative data and I like thinking about inequalities across space,” she says. “It’s an interesting way to frame ideas because it’s definitely a problem that exists, even in America: we have poor communities right next to wealthy communities.”

“Doing research and going into something deeply is important and not something you get in a term paper.” — Jane Furey '15

Specifically, Jane looked for patterns in Sub-Saharan water access across rural and urbanized areas, searching links between spatial inequality and access to running water. Her research is part of an ongoing venture led by Brown sociology professor Michael White that looks at urbanization, migration, health, and environment in Africa. He presented his work, including Jane’s findings, at the American Sociological Conference this past August.

“The idea is that everyone will think about the disparities between urban residents and rural residents. However, we were also looking at the disparities within urban areas themselves,” she says. “We looked at people in urbanized areas that are really well off versus poorer urban residents that might be worse off than people in rural communities.”

The project sparked the idea for her senior thesis, which examines geographic patterns of fertility in Cameroon: “I found that in urban areas fertility tends to be lower, while in rural areas it is higher. There was this interesting link between fertility and infrastructure—places that had greater infrastructure had lower fertility. A lot of those areas used to be colonized, which is why those areas have more physical development and it could also be why there was lower fertility.”

Jane’s UTRA experience and her thesis bolstered her resume, too, helping her land a summer internship at a world-leading “customer science” company where she’ll be analyzing geospatial data.

Extending her scholarship beyond the classroom, Jane says, was necessary and invaluable: “Doing research and going into something deeply is important and not something you get in a term paper. It prepared me for my thesis, but really, it prepared me for the future.”

Story credit: Jacob Goldman

Photo credit: Catharine Beattie