Third-year student explores possibilities at the intersection of computer science and social policy

March 31, 2021

Rena Liu

The daughter of two statisticians, Rena Liu, a third-year computer science major and social policy minor, was initially interested in pursuing a career in a neuroscience-related field. She became drawn to computer science when she discovered how diverse the industry is.

“It is an important skill that you can apply to different applications and other industries,” said Liu. “Whether you’re interested in medicine or any field, having computer science as a skill set really gives you the opportunity to explore a variety of career opportunities.”

Liu is vice chair of JHU Women in Computer Science (WiCS). She is also a member of JHU Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). Her computer science advisor is Avi Rubin, professor of computer science and technical director of the Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute.

How will her social policy minor complement her career goals in STEM? Check out this brief Q&A to learn more.

Where are you from?

My parents immigrated to the United States before I was born to complete their doctoral degrees at UCLA. I grew up in West Lafayette, Indiana.

What are your research interests?

I’m curious to work more in the intersection of social policy and computer science, particularly in research areas of data science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. Data is everywhere – and by integrating computer science into social policy research, I’m excited to better analyze results to tell a story and inform our decision making.

What has been your favorite course or most memorable research experience and why?

Last summer, I was lucky enough to intern remotely with Microsoft. One of the projects that I worked on during a hackathon was with a homelessness charity in Ireland that wanted to quantify their costs on administrative resources, transitional housing, etc., by using data from old documents and PDFs from previous years. Specifically, we were interested in comparing the costs of preventative measures for homelessness to curative, responsive ones. The experience was super interesting to me because it allowed me to use my computer science and social impact knowledge to effect change. I, along with a team of engineers, was able to sift through the documents and gather the data needed to hopefully inform decisions on policies for the organization.

What are your summer plans?

This summer I’ll be returning to Microsoft for another remote internship opportunity. I am hoping to sublet an apartment in Seattle, where I’ll be able to work remotely in a different city. I’m excited and grateful for the experience of living in a new city.

What advice do you have for incoming first year students?

Try to take a variety of courses your first year, in addition to your required courses. Taking a couple electives outside of my degree requirements every semester brought some balance and offered some really cool course opportunities to collaborate with others fields of study. I’d also recommend exploring the many neighborhoods outside the “Hopkins Bubble.” Neighborhoods like Guilford, Lake Montebello, and Druid Hill Park are within walking distance of the campus and are good places to start.

What are some extra-curricular activities that you have been doing to maintain during the pandemic?

I’ve found that taking breaks between screen time and going on a walk is really helpful for keeping my energy up.

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