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Two Bruins – connected through the UCLA Library Data Science Center – collaborated to earn one of them a prestigious 2021 Undergraduate Research Week Dean’s Prize and the other hands-on professional experience in data science assistance.

Dean’s Prize-winner Gabrielle Sones, recent communication studies graduate with a minor in music industry, hypothesized that the success of pop music artists is increasingly influenced by the social media activity of “stan” communities. A portmanteau of “stalker” and “fan,” stans are particularly active on Twitter. To support her thesis, Sones needed guidance mining the treasure-trove of available Twitter metrics.

“My faculty advisor Dr. Steven Peterson said it was my job to come up with a research question, and whatever that was, there were people at UCLA that could help me find out the answer,” said Sones.

Enter the UCLA Library Data Science Center (DSC) and fellow undergraduate, Julia Wood, a statistics major and the inaugural Norman Powell Data Infrastructure Assistant, named for donor Norman Powell, who is funding student data assistants for three years.

“Each new collaboration with a UCLA researcher enables me to develop new skills from data collection to visualization,” said Wood, who finds joy in learning the best technologies to help advance research teams towards their goals.

“Gabrielle came to the DSC with a very detailed research proposal,” said Wood. “It was crucial to narrow the project focus down to four artists, each with five stan accounts and five keywords so we could ensure we were collecting data which was accurate and standardized.”

Wood and Sones determined key data points to analyze for the artists Ariana Grande, BTS, Nicki Minaj, and Taylor Swift.

Wood then wrote code in Python to scrape key metrics such as follower count, retweets, and outbound link clicks, plus keywords including “buy” and “stream.” Analyzing this data in a program called SPSS Statistics, Sones found a clear correlation – but not causation – between stan Twitter communities’ efforts and artist success.

“The DSC’s main goal is to empower students and researchers to learn these tools and techniques to be able to comfortably work with data,” said DSC Facilitator Leigh Phan, who worked with Wood to set up software to collect stan account tweets.

“Gabrielle’s data-driven journey from thesis to consultation to award-winning project is emblematic of the DSC’s approach to de-mystifying data science.”

Image info: Gabrielle Sones’s prize-winning findings included this keyword search word cloud; watch the video archive of her research presentation at in a new tab).