Iain McConnell

Data Scientist
American Family Insurance Data Science Institute
Space Science and Engineering Center
UW-Madison

Iain’s cross-campus, interdisciplinary work focuses on making computers understand language through Natural Language Processing (NLP). With the Space Science and Engineering Center, he applies NLP to nano-blogging services like Twitter to understand public perception of, and attention to, weather. That understanding will help save lives by shaping more effective public communications to seek shelter in the event of severe weather.

Through the American Family Insurance Data Science Institute, Iain works with the Institute for Research on Poverty to increase usage of the Wisconsin Administrative Data Core (WADC). The WADC is a collection of data from multiple social service programs that is uniquely cross-referenced to individual people. Every year, WADC incorporates more data. Using NLP, Iain is helping to improve that cross-referencing so researchers can better understand how people use the services offered through different programs. The ultimate goal of this work is to reduce poverty in Wisconsin.

Additionally, Iain is involved in a collaboration with the School of Medicine and Public Health. Using NLP techniques with COVID-19 testing and contact tracing data, he’s helping to identify potential hot spots for virus transmission. Yet another area of work focuses on extracting insights from scientific literature on COVID-19 and other topics. Iain’s work gives him the opportunity to learn and grow every day, in large part because of these productive collaborations.

“Data science has incredible potential to break down boundaries, and discover new knowledge and new ways to help people. It’s incredibly satisfying work.”