Bangladeshis have long believed that marriage, plowing fields and waging war can be predicted by watching the stars. Now, graduating JSU doctoral student Mahzabin Akhter says modern scientific data can provide that insight and, to a larger degree, with more accuracy.
Akhter, a native of Bangladesh, enrolled at Jackson State University in 2016 and will soon earn her Ph.D. in Computational and Data-Enabled Science and Engineering in JSU’s College of Science, Engineering and Technology. She’s among the upcoming 2020 commencement graduates.
As a new full-time FedEx employee in Memphis, Tennessee, she and her data analysis team provide the sort of enlightenment that could radically improve company operations and dramatically enhance customer service. Basically, they analyze real data so the company can make informed business decisions.
For example, during this global coronavirus pandemic, she and her colleagues may ascertain the best methodology for delivering packages that won’t endanger couriers or customers and helping FedEx avoid hiccups in daily operations.
In general, her technical areas of interest are machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI). “I have been using both (ML and AI) in my research and also using them in my professional life as well.” In fact, she’s published articles on the use of AI, and, in one case, she explained how AI could be used to predict a movie’s success before its box-office release. This is accomplished by analyzing YouTube and IMDb ratings data.
Cheaper to retain customers than acquire new ones
At FedEx, a specific project she’s working on is called “churn analysis” – a system of evaluating the rate of customers who abandon the company so as to reduce that number. This is accomplished by monitoring behavioral patterns and using customer segmentation, which allows FedEx to market to groups based on common characteristics. Companies realize that it’s far cheaper to retain customers than to acquire new ones.
Because of her early and continuous growth at FedEx, Akhter said she’s looking forward to a successful tenure. She said FedEx provides her with professional development opportunities so that she can become an even greater asset to her team. As a result, she embraces the company’s mission and core principles.
“I joined FedEx as an associate data analyst, and I’m part of its enterprise data analytics team. Before joining full time in 2020, I worked with this same team as an intern in summer 2019. FedEx is a multinational company with operations in more than 200 countries around the world. So, I’ve been fortunate to work for an organization that has been recognized multiple times by Fortune magazine as one of the best companies to work for.”
Furthermore, Akhter said, “Since being there, I’ve realized that FedEx really does put people first. This includes helping employees develop work-life balance and earning merit for hard work. I leaped at the opportunity when a full-time job became available.”
Understanding the power of data analytics
In 2014, Akhter arrived in the U.S. After earning her bachelor’s degree in business administration in Bangladesh, she changed majors because of her longtime interest in science. So, she enrolled at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, earning her master’s degree in computer science, with full funding.
After that, she chose JSU to pursue her Ph.D. in computational data science because she loves doing analyses and playing with numbers. Thus, pursuing a doctorate “seems a natural choice,” she said. During her JSU studies, she received funding from the National Science Foundation.
Now, she wants to help the world better understand the power of data analytics.“In my professional journey JSU played a really vital role. I have been exposed to many organizations during my time. I finally found my dream job at FedEx, and JSU’s Career Services Center always has been so helpful.” — Ph.D. student Mahzabin Akhter in CSET’s Computational and Data-Enabled Science and Engineering “It is through continuous study of information that data analysts and scientists are able to predict the next storm, the genetic code of a species and make hotel recommendation for your next holiday,” Akhter said. So, it’s no surprise that she’s “so amazed at how people are finally making sense of Big Data and using the information to conduct better business.”
As for the study of gene disease, she said she originally wanted to become a medical doctor. When that didn’t happen she turned her attention to research using health data. She envisions the development of precision medicine that could help doctors make therapeutic and life-saving decisions.
She said this approach is effective because “computational science, or shall I say data science, is a great tool to study for any domain. We now have Big Data everywhere.”
Dissertation explains connections between various diseases
Here’s how Akhter explained her dissertation, “Spectral Analysis of Node Association in Complex Networks”:
“In my research I used gene- disease association data set, and I collected that from an open-source data repository. My objective was to build a disease-disease network from gene-disease associations and find important diseases based on their common shared genes with other diseases.”
She continued: “We model a disease-disease network as an undirected graph of diseases (vertices), wherein two vertices are connected with an edge if the corresponding diseases have one or more common associated genes. In this study, we answer the question: “If a disease-causing gene is present in more than one disease, is it more likely to cause the same or similar diseases that share the same gene(s)?” For instance, gene-1 is associated with disease-A, disease-B, and disease-C. Now, if a person gets disease-A, how likely is it that the person will also get disease-B or disease-C, as they do share the same gene (i.e., gene-1)?
So, basically, for the non-science person, Akhter is saying her research reveals that it’s possible for researchers to determine specific types of diseases based on their similarities to other diseases. As well, it’s possible for doctors to determine a person’s genetic predisposition to a disease using precision medicine.
With all of her current successes, Makhter credits JSU for preparing her for this latest chapter in her life.
“In my professional journey JSU played a really vital role. I have been exposed to many organizations during my time. I finally found my dream job at FedEx, and JSU’s Career Services Center always has been so helpful. Professors always assigned projects that related to real-life work.”
Life beyond science: traveling, cooking, entertaining
Aside from all the technology and research, Akhter does find time to unwind. She’s especially interested in cooking and traveling.
“I love cooking, eating, dining with and entertaining friends. Mostly, I cook my native food, but I also like Mediterranean and Chinese cuisine. I also like barbecue,” Akhter said.
When identifying her special areas and places to travel, she said, “My favorite place, of course, is the kitchen. I love anything regarding food. I love to watch travel-food documentaries to learn about foods of other countries. Among the countries I’ve already visited is Thailand, which is my favorite. In the USA, I would love to visit the Great Smoky Mountains in Georgia and would also like to visit California and Las Vegas, again and again and again.”
For now, though, Akhter is totally focused on her profession. Ultimately, she wants to use her skills more in the health domain and publish more of her research. And, she defines herself as an eternal optimistic and ambitious.
“I’ve always been a person who loves challenges. I’m not bothered by changes and always try to find positives out of negative situations. I’m a hopeful person who tries to live in the moment and spend every day trying to do good for planet Earth.”