Students who’ve taken part in previous summer internship programmes run by Te Pūnaha Matatini have expressed a high level of satisfaction with their experiences. Indeed, the 10-week paid internship programme provides an excellent opportunity for students to hone their data analytics skills while working for organisations in a real-world setting.

A total of 21 undergraduate and postgraduate university students from around New Zealand were selected for our 2017-18 programme. Divided into teams, the interns were placed on a wide range of projects working for various organisations, including Iwi, government and private firms based in either Auckland or Wellington.

There were some exciting new opportunities. One team, for instance, were placed on a project with Dragonfly Data Science and Te Hiku Media based in Wellington. Their internship involved work related to Te Hiku’s Kōrero Māori project, developing language tools that will enable speech recognition and natural language processing of te reo Māori. This requires the collection of more than 100,000 sentences and 250 hours of Māori language corpus. Once complete, it aims to provide these language tools to the Māori ICT industry.

Interns share their thoughts and details of their work

One of the student interns on this project was William Asiata, a BSc Mathematics graduate from the University of Canterbury and a current Master of Information Technology student at the University of Auckland.

“As a result of the internship I was able to generate a corpus of all te reo Māori spoken in Parliament which will be included in the greater corpus used to train the digital natural language processor language model,” said William. “As an interesting by-product we also produced some statistics about the historical usage of te reo in Parliament. I had the opportunity to learn and practice the Python and R programming languages and exercise data processing skills.

“I believe that it was a great opportunity for an inexperienced student to sharpen one’s skill set, to clarify future career goals, and to gain direct insight into the ICT and data science industries through practical work experience on meaningful, high-impact projects and the chance to learn directly from working professionals,” he added.

Another team worked on a project supporting research by Kate Hannah, Te Pūnaha Matatini’s Executive Manager, into the historical representation of women in science.

Emma Vitz, a statistics and psychology graduate from Victoria University of Wellington assigned to this project, researched an algorithm that classifies people by gender according to their first name, and blogged about the ethical pitfalls of such an approach. Emma also began research into networks underlying science collaboration in New Zealand. “I particularly enjoyed using both R and Python in the internship, and collaborating with researchers and other interns from Te Pūnaha Matatini,” said Emma.

Also on the team was Beth Rust, a BA (Hons) history graduate from Victoria University of Wellington, who conducted a literature review of the background and achievements of women in science.

“Women are everywhere in science,” said Beth. I noticed a few trends: a lot of early women scientists tended to be in botany – then later women dominated home science – now they are everywhere. I’ve also learnt a lot these past ten weeks, not just in terms of the history of science but also in a more general sense,” she added. “I’m very grateful for the experience and everything it’s taught me.”

Te Pūnaha Matatini Whanau member Stephen Merry, who is pursuing a PhD in mathematics at the University of Canterbury, also took part in the internship programme working with the Social Investment Agency in Wellington.

“I worked on two projects,” said Stephen. “The first investigated the scope of data held inside and outside of the Integrated Data Infrastructure, and the second examined how people’s use of health services is affected by the services’ accessibility. This internship gave me the opportunity to work in a different environment, and I felt a genuine sense of purpose completing the projects,” he added. “My colleagues in the Social Investment Agency were enormously helpful and understanding throughout, and the experience overall is something I would recommend to anyone interested.”

Following the programme, interns were invited to blog about their work for the Te Pūnaha Matatini website and these articles resulted in very positive feedback on Twitter – with even some New Zealand parliamentarians chiming in!