Zach Davis, ’15

Data Science

Unending curiosity

Many of the most important inventions came from basic research.

Zach Davis, ’15, considers the lab his second home ever since he joined the lab of David Landy, his former psychology professor, the summer after his first year at Richmond.

“[At UR], you’re learning how to develop your own research questions and come up with new experiments to test those questions,” Davis said. “At larger universities, undergraduates are not generally a part of that process. Instead, they have to begin with more entry-level tasks like running experiments that graduate students or professors have designed.”

Now a visiting research scientist at Meta, Davis uses cognitive science to understand user behavior and observes how people interact with an experimental system. Based on the patterns he sees, he creates user-friendly controls and displays for Meta’s applications.

Davis’ research places him at the intersection of psychology and data science. That interaction is essential to determining what an experiment reveals and how he can use that data in the future.

“If you don’t have a statistical understanding, then you’re not learning things reliably,” he said. Even though he conducts research as a job, Davis still values the experience of finding answers to his own questions. His curiosity fuels his desire to continue researching user behavior and data science, such as how hours of usage per month relates to people’s decision to cancel Netflix. He sees no reason to stop asking questions no matter what lab he’s in.

“Many of the most important inventions came from basic research,” he said. “Research questions are generally open-ended, and you have to try out different approaches to get a good answer. And answers often lead to even more questions.”