For Lecturer Ott Toomet, data pointed to the iSchool

Ott Toomet in his office.

Ott Toomet’s path to the iSchool was circuitous.

“I started as a physicist, but found there were very little applications for my astrophysics degree.”

Toomet, a new iSchool senior lecturer, turned his attention to economics because of his interest in social issues. Economics, he says, is not that different from physics. “It was a change, but not a huge change. Physics is very mathematical and formal, as is economics.”

His career includes a Ph.D. in Economics, 2005, from Aarhus University in Denmark and a role as assistant professor and senior research fellow in the Department of Economics at Tartu University in Estonia, Toomet’s native country. His specialty is econometrics, teaching economic theory and doing research related to applied statistics, now known as data science.

Toomet described his research this way, “You take data that is not at all good for what you want to do and you squeeze it into a computer and crank it around and around until it works for your purposes. I was good at that.”

Then he met Joshua Blumenstock at a conference and was impressed. Blumenstock founded the iSchool’s DataLab in 2013 as an iSchool assistant professor prior to moving to University of California at Berkeley in 2016. After a visit to Seattle, Toomet came to the iSchool on a research grant as a visiting scholar in 2015 and decided to accept his latest role as senior lecturer.

According to his bio, Toomet’s current research interests revolve around social networks, in particular how humans connect, and how to improve contacts between ethnic and racial groups. He is also contributing to other projects, largely as a data scientist. This includes violence and business development, Twitter communication during emergencies, and causal effect of labor market programs.

At the iSchool, Toomet teaches Econometrics and Machine Learning (INFX 574) and Core Methods in Data Science (INFO 371). This fall, he will teach Technical Foundations (INFO 201).

“I like interacting with students. I like the challenge to try and make seemingly complex principles understandable,” says Toomet. “I can give students many examples related to my research in social science and economics.”

He is also inspired by colleague Jevin West and his class, “Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data.” “Political texts quite often contain so much nonsense that everyone should immediately understand that it is nonsense,” says Toomet. “I’m looking for a way to teach students more of this critical thinking.”

Toomet describes his classroom philosophy as problem-solving teaching. “The main learning should come through solving problems on the computer or some theoretical or collaborative projects.”

When not in the classroom, Toomet says he enjoys Seattle very much. “I have an uncommon hobby called orienteering. Seattle has one of the most active clubs in the U.S.”