For new graduate Annie Collins, balancing science, creativity and service was key

June 22, 2022 by Chris Sasaki - A&S News

In her first year at U of T, Annie Collins took what she describes as a “weird combination” of biology, chemistry and math courses, along with a history and philosophy of science course.

However weird, now that she’s graduating with the rest of her Trinity College cohort, she’s grateful for learning about all the disciplines she had a personal interest in and for the balance in her studies that the mix of courses provided.

“It was nice to have a writing and creative outlet to go along with all the quantitative and theoretical work,” she says of her degree with a specialist in applied mathematics and a minor in the history and philosophy of science.

“I found it to be a nice balance that kept me motivated for both,” she says. “I was learning about mathematics and statistics, but I was also getting a deeper understanding of them from a philosophical and historical perspective.”

Collins’ current post-graduation plans are to take a couple of months and explore the west and east coasts of Canada. And while she hasn’t made any immediate plans to enter graduate school, that future remains a distinct possibility.

“I think my strength and focus lies in statistics and data science,” she says. “So, it's something that I'd be interested in pursuing in the future.”

What was the greatest challenge you faced in getting your degree?

I think everyone in my generation would say that mental health has been a challenge. We’ve all gone through it and I’ve had my ups and downs as far as motivation and putting in effort. Also, for me, another challenge was narrowing my focus. I liked applied mathematics and statistics, and history and philosophy, so I dipped my toes in quite a few areas. There were benefits to this, but I think if I had narrowed my studies earlier, it would have helped my focus for my final couple of years and helped me decide what I want to do in the future.

Can you describe the research you did into the opioid crisis?

In a math modeling course with Professor Adam Stinchcombe, we looked at opioid addiction as if it were a disease where you're either susceptible, infected or recovering. In our model, we tracked the movement of people susceptible to addiction, people using prescription opioids, people addicted to opioids, people who are in active rehabilitation, and whether their use was illicit or by prescription. And the result was that we saw how prescription rates drive the opioid crisis — how prescriptions correlated with addiction, entering rehab and death.

And what about your research into the reproducibility of COVID-19-related research?

That work was with Professor Rohan Alexander in the Faculty of Information and Department of Statistical Sciences. We looked at the reproducibility of COVID-19-related research in preprint papers — so, research that wasn’t peer reviewed and published in journals. We looked at papers posted on a number of different preprint repositories during the pandemic and found that many papers lacked open data and open code which reduces reproducibility. This was concerning considering how common it was during this period for authors to rush to share their research, and considering the negative impact that some preprint papers were having at the time.

Of your activities outside class over the past four years, what are you most proud of?

In my fourth year in Trinity College, I got quite involved in student governance. I was chair of the electoral commission which administers the college elections. I was on the board of stewards and the non-residents affairs committee. I was also the external relations director in the Department of Mathematics’ undergrad chapter of the Association for Women in Mathematics. And in that role, I set up our mentorship program for high school and university students, with a focus on women mentors and students.

I also worked for a national charitable organization called Imagine Canada which was very rewarding. I worked on a service they provide called Grant Connect which is basically a database of all the grants and funding opportunities for charities in Canada. I helped maintain the quality of the database and worked on other improvements. Plus, I worked as a research assistant in their research department on various projects.

What advice would you give a student starting their undergraduate program?

Ask questions and seek out help when you need it. Some people are very good at asking for help but I wasn't. If you’re used to doing your studies on your own, or if learning has always come easily, it helps to understand that might not be the case in university and you might need help. Also, be assured that your instructors are on your side. They want you to do well and if you ask for help, you’ll get it!

Congratulations to U of T's Class of 2022!

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