Renata Rawlings-Goss

Building Big Data



Co-Executive Director


Big Data.  Big data, as opposed to “data”, describes datasets that are so large and diverse that it requires the development of a new set of techniques and technologies in storage, analysis, and reporting.  Big data is easily applied to collaborative research across multiple disciplines (i.e., medicine, social science, business).

Data Science. Computer and information research scientists invent and design new approaches to computing technology and find innovative uses for existing technology. They study and solve complex problems in computing for business, medicine, science, and other fields.

Genomics.  Big data has been used in the field of genomics. Genomics is a more recent term that describes the study of all of a person’s genes (the genome), including interactions of those genes with each other and with the person’s environment.

Fields of Study

Physics. The branch of science concerned with the nature and properties of matter and energy. The subject matter of physics, distinguished from that of chemistry and biology, includes mechanics, heat, light and other radiation, sound, electricity, magnetism, and the structure of atoms.  Explore what you can do with a physics degree.

Biophysics.  Biophysics is a bridge between biology and physics.  Biology studies life in its variety and complexity. It describes how organisms go about getting food, communicating, sensing the environment, and reproducing. On the other hand, physics looks for mathematical laws of nature and makes detailed predictions about the forces that drive idealized systems or models of how nature works. Spanning the distance between the complexity of life and the simplicity of physical laws is the challenge of biophysics. Looking for the patterns in life and analyzing them with math and physics is a powerful way to gain insights. Learn more about having a career in biophysics.


famu-logo-101blockwolverineBachelors of Science (BS), Physics , Florida A&M University

Masters of Science (MS), Biophysics, University of Michigan

Doctors of Philosophy (PhD), Biophysics,  University of Michigan

What inspired you to enter your profession?

Working with big genomic datasets from populations we visited in Africa set the tone for why big data was important. That led me to work for the National Science Foundation and the White House Office of Science and Technology.

Initially in high-school, however, I was inspired by a random commercial I saw where a little girl said she wanted to be an astrophysicist. I had never heard of that as a career, but when I registered for college I had to declare a major so I just said physics. I figured I could change it later if I did not like it. It turned out I loved it and was good at it. I graduated college with a 3.9 grade point average (GPA).

Tell us about the greatest challenge you had while you were in school.

My biggest hurtle was not classes but the inconsistencies surrounding research. I wanted everything in science to be precise and was not willing to accept that some things in biology were not that clean. When I accepted this everything worked much better.

What innovations should we watch for in the big data field?

Data Science and Big Data are becoming so mainstream that now every company is a data company, no matter if they make shoes, build roads, or treat patients. Industry, government, and non-profits are all trying to use data to make their business grow, or help change the world! Because of this, there are more high-paying jobs for people who know how to handle data than there are people to fill them.

How do you give back to your community?

I work to bring data science workshops to Minority-serving institutions and community colleges to broadened the base of data science talent in this new workforce.

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