Tan leaves Yale well-equipped for career in public service

Alden Tan
Alden Tan

Alden Tan took CS50 (“Introduction to Computing and Programming”), a popular computer science course, during his first year at Yale College. By the time he was a sophomore he served as an undergraduate teaching assistant in the same course, helping his peers tackle tricky problem sets. That’s when he came to love the field.

Computer science classes are unique in the sense that you have one big problem to solve over two or three weeks,” Tan said. “You make incremental progress and then hit roadblocks and bugs that can take many hours to overcome. When you finally solve the problem, the sense of satisfaction is unrivaled. That’s also why I really enjoy being a teaching assistant. I love helping other students achieve that feeling of fulfillment.”

Tan, who is from Singapore and came to Yale on a government scholarship, took advantage of Yale College’s double major in computer science and economics, which became available during his sophomore year. After graduation, he will join Singapore’s public service division.

Tan flexed his analytical muscles while completing his senior thesis, which identified a causal relationship between a geographic location’s temperature and dew point and its COVID-19 cases and deaths. By using analytical tools developed in econometrics — a subset of economics that applies statistical methods to studying data — Tan showed that higher temperatures and dew points lead to lower case counts and deaths. According to his estimates, a 1-degree Fahrenheit rise in temperature reduces cases by 1.84% and deaths by 0.24%, while a 1 degree Fahrenheit bump in dew point decreases cases by 1.37% and deaths by 0.28%.

A lot of studies identify correlation or association between weather and COVID-19 trends, but it is really challenging to find a causal effect because there are so many confounding variables involved,” said Tan, who is a member of Saybrook College. “Econometric tools allow us to get at that causal effect.”

Due to the pandemic, Tan spent his junior year studying remotely from Singapore. He managed to stay on top of his classwork and in touch with friends despite a 13-hour time difference. This academic year, he completed his studies while serving as a teaching assistant for two courses each semester, helping fellow students grasp algorithms and machine learning.

I enjoyed helping other students break down challenging concepts into easily digestible pieces,” he said. “Teaching also taught me how to communicate clearly and effectively, and I also learned about developing curriculum.”

Tan is grateful for his Yale experience and feels the usual mix of reluctance and excitement about graduating.

I learned so much about American society and culture, and I made close friends here,” he said. “It’s the close of a chapter, so it’s a little sad, but I’m looking forward to starting the next chapter.”

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