Grad students win $100,000 in data science contest

November 30, 2017
By: Public Affairs
Winning students Eric Munsing, Allen Tang, Soeren Kuenzel and Jake Soloff
The winning students: Eric Munsing, Allen Tang, Soeren Kuenzel and Jake Soloff (Photo by David Filiberti, Citadel)

A team of four UC Berkeley graduate students with serious data science and analysis skills beat teams from the likes of Harvard and MIT and Oxford to win the $100,000 top prize in an international data science competition staged by the hedge fund Citadel.

The winners of the Data Open championship — Eric Munsing, Sören Künzel, Jake Soloff and Allen Tang — may also score job interviews with the Chicago-based firm. 

The teams applied data science to a problem in education. Charter schools were the focus of the Berkeley team’s effort. According to a Bloomberg account of the contest, the Berkeley team worked 16-hour days during the week and lived off pizza and cupcakes in producing a 20-page report and presentation.

“The judges felt that the winning team formulated a unique hypothesis,” a Citadel campus recruiting manager told the Daily Cal. “(They) demonstrated an impressive amount of depth and incorporated additional datasets beyond those originally provided to them.”

Tang told the Daily Cal the experience was worth the long hours, and that he enjoyed working with all the different skills his teammates had to offer. Künzel and Soloff study statistics, Tang studies electrical engineering and computer science and Munsing studies civil and environmental engineering.

According to Künzel, the competition from other schools kept the team motivated. The 80 finalists were picked from 19 regional qualifying competitions, the first held at Berkeley in September, according to Citadel.