This post is part of our Curators’ Corner series. Every so often we’ll feature a different DCN Curator. The series grew out of a community-building activity wherein curators at our partner organizations interview each other “chain-letter style” in order to get to know each other and their work outside of the DCN better. We hope you enjoy these posts!

Yasir Karim

Yasir Karim a Data Analyst/Data Resources Officer for the Research Resources Team at the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Yasir was interviewed by Jonathan Wheeler in January 2023.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to your current position?

I graduated from college right after the pandemic started in May 2020. I majored in Applied Mathematics, and had a minor in economics for undergrad. After that it was the whole limbo of where do we go now? And how do we find a job? I springboarded off of my applied math and statistics background to join the Flatiron School Data Science boot camp in Manhattan. The program ran from September 2020 to January 2021. The program consisted of several Machine learning and Deep Learning science. The program provides you with foundational knowledge to grow in the field of data analytics and land an entry level job. This is how I landed my role at the Michael J. Fox Foundation in June 2021, a year after graduation. I have been at the foundation now for 18 months now as a data analyst.

It has been a great learning experience. As a new career professional, there’s just so much thrown at you; Working for the first time in an office workspace, especially one that is remote, and everyone else is figuring it out as they go out, and you don’t have another reference point. I think I’ve grown a lot personally and professionally over the last year and a half.

Before we talk about what you do specifically at the Michael J. Fox Foundation – because a lot of the member institutions within the Data Curation Network are academic institutions – can you start with an overview of what generally is the mission of the Michael J. Fox Foundation? Can you share some more information about how the Michael J. Fox Foundation operates and what you do there?

The first step is raising funds, and the team is exceptional at that. Even throughout the pandemic, our fundraising was stable compared to the pre-pandemic levels. After that, the funds are distributed to qualified researchers through our funding programs.

The foundation either sponsors or funds research. The difference between them is that for the sponsored studies, the foundation is a lot more involved from start to finish. The data sets that I primarily work with are generated from the studies called Fox Insight, and PPMI. These are long-running research studies. PPMI has been running for over a decade. Fox Insight was launched in 2017. 

Curating the data collected from these studies and releasing it publicly isn’t part of my role. My role involves working with these published data sets, granting researchers access, analyzing the data quality, and documenting the data properly. Furthermore, I respond to questions about the data sets from researchers as well as creating data cuts when required from sequestered portions of the data.

Can you provide a general idea of what kinds of data quality issues you encounter, and how you resolve those? Both in terms of your publicly accessible data and the data that you have for restricted release based on researcher applications?

I’ve primarily been working with the Fox Insight Study data. I’ve conducted analyses on participant activity answering questions such as how long do they stay active, respond to surveys, in the study? How long after are they likely to drop-off? Knowing the answers to these might inform future retention and recruitment campaigns. I guess that’s not the data quality aspect you were talking about, but how we analyze data internally.

In terms of data quality issues, there’s hundreds of variables in this data set that have to be clearly documented. There are some that might either be misleading or providing the wrong information. I’ve taken on these tasks either based on questions from researchers or items that were already on the agenda. For example, the annotated data dictionary for Fox Insight is over 1,400 pages long. Majority of that was written in the past year. There are additional variables that aren’t included in the data set yet, and I’ve had to investigate their potential value.

Are there other aspects of curation that fall within your job, such as data transformation? Or other curation related duties that you have?

No, not really. Just the aspects I’ve described already.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about the Michael J. Fox Foundation or your duties, and the work that you do?

There was an interesting coincidence. Right after I joined the foundation, the foundation became a part of the DCN. Getting immediate exposure to DCN, their resources, and the participating institutions was a great learning experience. The CURATED workflow documentation is very helpful. I’d say I was pretty lucky in that sense.

Why is data curation so important to you? Why do you think it’s important in the field, or for the kind of work that you do?

As someone who hopes to become a Lead Data Scientist or Analyst one day, I think it’s crucial to me. There’s a famous quote that goes something like, 80% of data science is cleaning the data and the other 20% is complaining about cleaning the data. Therefore, curation will always be an important part of the process for me. So I have to keep learning, keep doing more. I’ve had the chance to curate a couple of data sets as part of DCN, and both times I’ve learned new things. As I’ve mentioned already, the CURATED workflow itself is great. 

In terms of the Foundation, part of the work is to fund research studies that will eventually lead to the cure of Parkinson’s. But the studies only get us partially there. If the collected data is not findable, reusable, interoperable, then we have a problem. Therefore, data curation is vital for us at the foundation.

If you weren’t doing data curation what would you be doing?

Even deciding to get into data analytics was a choice late into my undergrad. Before that, I’ve always dreamt of being a Pro-Cricketer. I still do get to play cricket as a hobby though. There are plenty of weekend cricket leagues during the summer months in New York City. It’s great to be able to do it for fun, and make friends along the way.

I’m glad that you have an opportunity to play cricket where you are, because I know it’s not something that has a lot of exposure here in the States. So to be somewhere – for example there’s a large Bangladeshi community here at the University of New Mexico. But to my knowledge, there’s no cricket. And if you have something – that would be like never getting to play baseball, I guess.

Exactly. In New York City, cricket is officially played at high school level. I was lucky enough to captain my School’s team. Unfortunately it’s not yet a college sport, but we’ll get there someday.

What is your favorite cuisine?

I think most people would say the cuisine that they grew up eating. It’s the same for me as well, I like Bengali cuisine or South Asian in general the most. My favorite item would be Biryani, and we tend to eat a lot of fried food like Samosas too, especially during Ramadan.

Since that’s sort of the default answer, I’ll give you a second one. My second favorite would be East Asian. I like Thai, Chinese, and Uyghur food among others. In New York City, you can basically get any sort of cuisine you’d like.

What do you like to do outside of work?

Cricket as I’ve mentioned before. We started off-season practices in January. The season will run every Saturday from May until October.

Other than that I love movies. I am a cinephile. I try to watch something new every day after I’m done with work. For example, I saw Glass Onion yesterday. It was very good, just like the first film in the franchise.

I have a PlayStation as well. I find the experience very cathartic, whenever I have the time to play.

What is your favorite city?

New York City. I grew up in a city called Chittagong in Bangladesh. I’ve pretty much lived in these overpopulated, bustling cities my whole life. I lived in Chittagong for 16 years and then moved to New York. I’ve been here for the last 11 years now. I prefer to live in these crowded cities regardless of their flaws. It’s very convenient in terms of shopping for daily necessities or any other activities. It’s nice to sometimes go out in the suburbs for a week or so, but after a little while I start losing my mind. I need to see people fighting in the street, or bumping into tourists and saying why aren’t they walking faster? So, I don’t do quiet places very well.

Knowing that you love New York and you’re from Bangladesh, are there other places you would like to travel to next?

I have a long bucket list of places I’d like to go to. Other than Bangladesh and the USA, the only other country I’ve been to is Canada. My dream vacation would be Japan. I’m obsessed with their culture. I grew up watching anime, that’s how I started becoming fascinated with their food, clothing, minimalism, architecture, and music.

Great. I hope you get to go soon!

Thank you.

To learn more about Yasir, and the datasets he has curated for the DCN, see his curator page!

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