In 2014,Chris Watkins was introduced to mathematics research through the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) at Chapman, and has returned to Chapman to continue research in pursuit of a PhD in computational data science. Watkins graduated from Chapman with a Bachelor’s in Mathematics in 2015 and received his Master’s in Mathematics from Oregon State University in 2017 before returning to Chapman to work towards his PhD.
Though Watkins has explored various fields of mathematics, he chose to pursue a PhD in computational data science because he could pursue something he was passionate about – baseball. As a longtime baseball fan, he chose to delve into baseball analytics, working to develop new metrics to evaluate players and player projections.
Watkins uses data collected by the MLB to search for correlations and patterns. Simply put, he is looking for new ways to play Moneyball, looking for numerical answers to questions like “when should you take the starting pitcher out of the game?” Traditional ways of evaluating players aren’t necessarily accurate, and Watkins wants to find the best way of measuring players’ abilities and predicting their success. He is hoping his work will land him a position in the analytics department of a major baseball team like The Angels.
Watkins did not get his start in research until the summer before his last year of undergrad. He applied to SURF with the help of his Chapman mentor, Dr. Mohamed Allali, and pursued a page rank project that investigated why certain web pages come up on Google search results before others. “I didn’t know what math research entailed,” Watkins said recently, adding that part of the reason he applied was to find out “what math researchers do all day.” He learned that and so much more.
A key takeaway for Watkins were the skills the SURF program fostered. The skills that he learned through SURF, organizational tricks, research methods, and presentation techniques, were the same skills that helped him complete his Master’s thesis and now his PhD research. Watkins said the presentations required to complete the SURF program “really helped me and gave me confidence for the future. Once I got through that, I could present to anybody.”
Watkins’ advice for undergraduate researchers is simple: get involved however you can. “If you are at all interested, try it just to see how the research world works. And it will prepare you for grad school – if you go to grad school, you’re going to be doing research.”
Watkins doesn’t know what his future will hold, hoping either to work in the analytics department for the Angels baseball team or continue teaching. Either way, his path will be influenced by research and his time at Chapman University.
Are you curious about the research scene here at Chapman University? Contact CUE at CUE@chapman.edu and be sure to follow and like the Center for Undergraduate Excellence on Facebook and never miss an opportunity to take your education to the next level!