Today we had a chat with Melinda Cheng, Research Data Analyst.
What’s your role at ONCAT?
As the research data analyst at ONCAT, I work with data from a variety of different sources and my work supports different ONCAT teams. I conduct data analyses and produce data metrics and reports. I look for messiness and inconsistencies in data and find a solution to address them.
In recent months, I’ve worked closely with the Transfer and Technology team on data enhancement-related initiatives as well as with the Senior Researcher and the Manager of Funding Programs on several data-related funded projects.
What did you do before joining the organization? And what experience did you have with postsecondary transfer prior to working here?
Prior to joining ONCAT, I held several project management positions within several Ontario postsecondary institutions. I worked with cross-functional and technical teams to implement software upgrades as well as new administrative systems. Some of these projects spanned several functional areas within the Student Administration System, such as enrollment planning, admissions, student records, and government reporting.
Through my previous roles, I learned that transfer students often have to deal with convoluted processes to get the support they need throughout their transfer journeys. Personally, I have always been motivated to implement processes designed to serve the needs of diverse student groups and help institutions use data to inform decision-making.
How does your work advance ONCAT’s mission to improve transfer students’ experiences in Ontario? And why does ONCAT’s mission resonate with you?
To have a better understanding of the current state of the transfer landscape, we need access to more comprehensive Ministry data and work with our stakeholders to collect relevant data. Data allows us to establish a baseline and enable us to measure progress in our work on improving transfer students’ experiences.
I am thrilled to be part of the Data Pilot team, which works with our institutional partners to analyze their data and allow them to report on transfer student outcomes more easily in the future.
From identifying data issues, to defining field standards and conducting data conversions, I know that the work I do today for the Pathway Data Enhancement project will help students find their desirable transfer opportunities faster and easier on ONTransfer.ca tomorrow!
Transfer students make up a relatively small amount of the Ontario postsecondary student population—approximately 6-9%. Why do you think postsecondary institutions should still focus on improving transfer student experiences?
That 6–9% figure is probably lower than the actual percentage of the student population requiring transfer support. Besides, Ontario’s PSE student population is in the range of 900,000 annually, which means 6–9% represents many students—a total comparable to a large university like the University of Toronto! In addition, for quite a few institutions, their percentage of transfer student is in the range of 15–20% or higher.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about postsecondary education—or student transfer—since starting your work at ONCAT?
It has been most interesting to learn that there are different definitions for the term ‘transfer student’ across the sector (within Ontario as well as across other provinces). It certainly makes comparing transfer metrics a little bit more challenging.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
The devil is in the details when it comes to data work. I can easily fall into a rabbit hole when tracing and trouble shooting data issues and lose track of time. I’ve learned over the years to time-box tasks and force myself to switch my focus back to other, higher priority work.
If you could give any advice to yourself as a student, what would you say?
Not to limit yourself to a single field of study. Pick two majors instead of a specialization—one to learn enough skills that will guarantee a job after graduation, the other just for the joy of learning a topic of interest!
Just for fun …
What’s your go-to restaurant or recipe?
Air-fried chow mein with shredded pork.
What’s the first place you would want to travel to in a post-pandemic world?
I would love to visit my uncle in California, who will celebrate his 100th birthday this year, or visit my sister and my extended families in Hong Kong.
Cats or dogs?
Any great books or movies you’ve enjoyed recently and want to recommend?
I love Matthieu Ricard’s books. Recently, I’ve been re-reading his book Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill and find a few nuggets of wisdom every time I flip through it.