Polygence blog / Student Spotlights

Rohaan Sanyal’s Polygence Experience: Using Data Science to Identify What Drives Happiness

8 minute read

Rohaan Sanyal is an incoming high school freshman from California. In his conversation with Howard Hsu, Rohaan talks about his exploration of data science, what factors influence happiness in different countries, and the unique one-on-one mentorship in Polygence.

Get to Know Rohaan

What’s your background?

My name is Rohaan Sanyal. I'm going to be a high school freshman next year at Sacred Heart Preparatory in California.

What were you hoping to get out of your Polygence experience?

I was just hoping to learn an important skill, which for me was data science. I wanted to find somebody who had a lot of experience in the field and have them guide me and bring me through a project that I'd been thinking about for years on end. I wanted to really flesh out this project with somebody who knew the material and was able to teach it effectively.

Learn More About Rohaan’s Polygence Project

How did you first learn about Polygence?

I think it might've been through a blog post I saw that talked about another student’s story, and I found their project really interesting. And I found just the concept behind Polygence interesting as well. 

What was your project idea? How did the idea develop once you met with your mentor?

So my question was about what really drives happiness. I'd always kind of noticed on the news that everything always seemed so negative, and we never really consider the happiness of a country’s citizens. I just wanted to understand what's really behind this concept of happiness, how humans persevere through obstacles and continue to stay happy. 

Once I met with my mentor, I was able to turn this into a data science project which I didn't really think was possible. I thought we would have to really narrow the scope of the question, but instead of that, we were just able to modify the question and turn it into something that was quantifiable as a data science project.

Our actual question revolved around the factors that impact the overall happiness of a country. For data collection, we went through a few different repositories, such as the World Health Organization, the World Bank, and lots of Gallup polls as well. We consolidated that data into a large data set, correlated it, and saw what factors impacted happiness the most. We looked at the countries with the highest happiness, most notably the Nordic countries, and observed what factors were much stronger in comparison to other countries with lower happiness scores. We were able to make regression models that would give us an accurate depiction of what factors impacted the happiness of a country the most.

One of the main factors we saw after the obvious factor of GDP, was freedom. In a Gallup poll, they asked a question about how free citizens felt in their own country. We found out it was very important for any person in a country to feel as if they had the ability to make their own choices. Another main factor was having a support system. Gallup asked a question about whether or not a person felt they had people to turn to in times of trouble, and this was also very important.

Generosity was also important as well. It was measured by how much people thought businesses and the government in their country gave back to their community.

What was the final outcome of your project?

The main output of the project was a big table of each factor and its correlation to the happiness score. We also explored factors that some of the happiest countries performed well on, and looked at policy and history for those countries to see what might have helped these countries to score high on these factors. 

Is this topic something you’re interested in pursuing further? What are some of the skills and knowledge that you gained through this project?

I do want to continue pursuing this question. Maybe I could go down to a smaller scale and look at specific people, or learn more about what really gives the human mind happiness and the psychology of it. 

Not only did I learn hard skills, like data science, but I also learned about writing research papers and softer skills like efficiency and organization. I think all these skills are really helpful and will undoubtedly help me throughout the rest of my life.

Rohaan’s Experience with His Polygence Mentor

Who was your mentor and why were they a good fit for your project?

My mentor was Daniel. He was pursuing a higher degree in engineering, and I think he was a really great fit because he was very educated on the topic at hand and knew about all the nuances. He was also very good at keeping me on track. I'm not the greatest at organization and time management, but he really helped steer me in the right direction.

What did a typical session look like between you and your mentor?

For the first 10 min or so we would go over the work that I did, and go over some of the actual concepts behind what I was doing, so that I wasn't just copy pasting code and writing lines. I was actually understanding what was happening behind the data science. For the next 30 minutes, we'd review new concepts, and then we’d also look at the big picture to see where I was at in terms of the journey so far and what I needed to do for the next session.

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Rohaan’s Reflections on His Polygence Experience

How was the learning style at Polygence different from what you've done in school?

As a school, you have a lot of students to think about. Obviously, there's a lot of different things going on, and teachers might have to deal with other aspects of school besides teaching. But with Polygence, you have one-on-one specific instruction, and it just adapts so well to you because your mentor is able to give you the perfect feedback and teaching in order to accelerate your learning journey. With school, obviously you can get some of that. But you won't be able to get that same kind of personalized experience that Polygence gives you.

What was the most memorable part of your Polygence project?

I think the most memorable part was probably near the end when I was actually exploring these connections that we saw in the data through researching history and policies. I think that was when I knew the project went from writing lines of code and crunching numbers to something that was really applicable to the real world and had value.

What was the most challenging part of the project?

I’d say motivation. I will admit I was not as motivated in the beginning, because I didn't really think about what this work could mean in the real world. But my mentor Daniel was able to really keep me on track and show me the potential real world applications, and that really helped me with motivation and greatly increased my productivity and efficiency towards the end.

What are 3 adjectives you’d use to describe how Polygence made you feel?

I'd say “accomplished,” then maybe “proud,” not only of myself but of all the other symposium participants who had some great projects. I’d also say “inspired,” especially by all these other motivated students and my mentor, which really gave me a sense of what we're able to accomplish with a little bit of time and a lot of work. 

Anything that surprised you about your experience?

I was just really surprised about how well thought out the whole Polygence model is. I've seen a lot of companies and organizations in the past that have tried to also do this model of connecting students with mentors. I didn't really think they were all that good, because you'd have to go through the process of finding your own mentor and you’d have to contact them yourself, and you're not actually sure if they’re the right fit for you.

But with Polygence I had to apply, look at a few mentor candidates, and then Polygence just did the rest, which I think is a really well organized model to make the magic happen.

How is Polygence different from other extracurricular activities that you’ve done before?

I'd say it’s a lot more organized and the entire process is well thought out. You always know what the next steps are. You have 10 sessions for example, with the deadline at the end, and then you and your mentor will set milestones and it just really keeps you on track. It was great to just have that whole experience thought out for you, although I was still able to make it my own unique journey.

What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking of starting a research project?

I’d advise them to stay on track. It's obviously good to explore new things and branch out, but I think the most important part of any research project is just thinking about what the end result is going to be at all times. For example, I would sometimes see myself kind of getting lost in all these cool graphs and 3D visualization models. But what really I needed to remember was that

I had a project to finish, and I think when you see that light at the end of the tunnel it really helps you when you're going through some of the more tedious parts of a research project.

What advice would you give any student who's thinking about doing Polygence specifically?

Work closely with your mentor. I think that's the main thing that really helped me. Towards the end of this project, your mentor is going to be your greatest asset. They're going to be able to help you with any problem you encounter, and if they're not able to, they'll be able to help you figure out what's going wrong. I think it’s also important to pay attention and really consider the things that your mentor is telling you to make sure you truly understand.

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