Dr. Lauren Patterson – a former Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) intern at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) – currently works as a policy associate at Duke University, where she uses data analysis and visualization skills that were honed during her internship.
As a recent earth science graduate from Purdue University, Patterson assisted with the development of LandScan USA—a population-distribution model that continuously improves due to advances in data collection and analysis methods. “This project was my introduction into the world of geographic information systems and modeling,” said Patterson.
During her internship at ORNL, Patterson was involved with quality control and curating data from multiple sources. Although she was assigned specific tasks, she also was given space to pursue her own interests in programming. Being mentored under two skilled programmers, she learned not only about writing scripts and finding patterns in data, but also about maintaining a good work/life balance and valuing research quality over research quantity.
“I gained an appreciation of the research while continuing to look for new ways to improve data curation or modeling approaches. I learned to stay curious and mindful about what I was doing,” summarized Patterson.
Patterson expanded upon this introduction to geographic information systems (GIS) later in her career at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she obtained a GIS Certification and earned her Ph.D. in geography. Previous jobs include providing geospatial and data analysis support for Research Triangle Institute International and acting as a GIS and financial analyst for the Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Currently, Patterson works in the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions’ Water Policy Program. This program is an interdisciplinary project that focuses on the long-term viability of water quantity and quality with regard to basic human needs and water infrastructure. There she investigates how changes in average streamflow, floods, and droughts occur in response to climate and human factors.
As an alumnus of an ORISE internship program at ORNL and now a professional in the STEM field, Patterson offers this advice to future applicants: “We are in the age of big data and analytics. ORNL is at the forefront of this revolution with access to big data, big computers, and great minds that can transform data into insight. It’s an amazing opportunity – take it.”