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Stephanie Kovalchik

Sports statistics star

Dr Stephanie Kovalchik got her start in sport statistics from behind her keyboard while watching the tennis on TV. With a Bachelor of Science, Master’s degree and PhD in Biostatistics under her belt, Stephanie was working in traditional biostatistics research roles. But at night, she would work on her passion project; mapping out stats-backed answers to some of tennis’ big questions.

In 2016 she turned her side hustle into her day job, and now Stephanie works with tennis statistics every day. “There’s so much data available that can help us address questions like how the sport is structured, or to help give players and coaches a competitive edge.”

Day-to-day, Stephanie uses maths processes like statistical modelling, Bayes’ Theorem (which shows how to update probabilities with new information), and machine learning to quantify things like how a player’s physicality might affect their performance.

“It’s good to have a background in foundational maths, algebra and calculus to work in statistics,” says Stephanie, but she wasn’t always maths’ biggest fan.

It was only when she was put into the highest class in Year 7 that Stephanie realised, “I must have had a talent I didn’t appreciate.”

Tennis, however, has always been a passion, and spending time on the court even helps her to do her job better. “Knowing what it feels like to hit a ball helps to inform your research,” she says. “I love the sport so it doesn’t really feel like work.”

Stephanie’s career path

>> Bachelor of Science (Biology/Literature), California Institute of Technology

>> Master’s degree in Biostatistics, University of California, Los Angeles

>> PhD in Biostatistics, University of California, Los Angeles

>> Senior Data Scientist, Tennis Australia & Research Fellow at the Institute for Health and Sport, Victoria University

“There’s so much data available that can help us address questions like how the sport is structured, or to help give players and coaches a competitive edge.”

This article originally appears in Careers with STEM: Maths 2019

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