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UNC team wins $20,000 and a chance at a job from datathon

UNC and Duke students competed in a Datathon on Friday. Photo courtesy of Houa Vang. 

UNC and Duke students competed in a Datathon on Friday. Photo courtesy of Houa Vang. 

A team of UNC Ph.D. candidates won $20,000 and job interviews after a day-long competition on Duke University’s campus on April 21. Yunxiao Liu, Iain Carmichael and John Palowitch — all UNC students — teamed up, along with Yiming Hu, a Ph.D. candidate from Yale University, to compete in a datathon sponsored by Citadel, Citadel Securities and Correlation One.

The datathon was part of a series of events held at 18 different universities where teams of three to four students were given a large set of publicly available data and asked to solve a problem, L.J. Brock, chief people officer at Citadel, said.

“You try and take the knowledge you can get from that data and try to think of innovative ways to solve challenges. You can think of it as akin to, but different from, a hackathon,” Brock said. “A hackathon’s outcome is based on trying to make an application work or something of that nature while this is much more about problem-solving.”

Palowitch, who is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in the statistics and operation research department, said he learned about the competition from one of his friends in the department with whom he formed the team. During the competition, the team was given millions of U.S. job listings along with economic and demographic data sets from the past decade. Using all that information, they were charged with investigating both macro and micro factors that affect job growth.

“One thing that really helped us was the diversity of research backgrounds so that we were able to compile an analysis that followed a few different directions instead of just one,” Palowtich said. “I think that is what sets us apart from some of the other teams.”

The team did not do much preparation outside of reading over the prompt that was sent out the night before, Palowitch said.

“I did it because I thought it was going to be fun," Palowitch said. "I didn’t expect to win and it was fun, so it was a surprise that we actually ended up taking first.”

Citadel is using the datathons as a recruitment opportunity with all winning team members being given a chance to interview for either Citadel or Citadel Securities.

“The people who typically have the skills, passion and capabilities in this area are certainly people we want to connect with and potentially have be employees at Citadel,” Brock said. “We also really wanted to have an opportunity to connect with people with this capability and help them understand how their skills can be applied like Citadel or Citadel Securities.”

Sham Mustafa, the CEO and co-founder of Correlation One, the talent solutions firm Citadel partnered with to host the datathons, said the datathons have been receiving a lot of interest from students — with over 500 applications being submitted for each event.

“The feedback we have received from students has been very gratifying,” Mustafa said. “For instance, one of the students at UNC, John Palowitch, who was part of the winning team, told us that he had never thought about, was never interested in careers in finance, but after this competition his view changed.”

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