Data Science (DS) continues to advance as one of the most promising career paths for skilled professionals. Today, successful data professionals recognize the importance of mastering skills outside of the traditional tasks of analyzing myriad data, programming and data mining to help achieve the goals of an organization. The DS Seminar series is preparing students both in the undergraduate and the DS graduate program to excel in this high-demanding field. The DS Seminar series not only provides a glimpse into the roles of a data scientist through an exploration of their skills, experience and responsibilities, but it also gives students a chance to develop their professional network with influential figures representing fields such as AI, computational neuroscience and political analysis.
“The primary purpose of the seminar is to introduce data scientists and their projects to the New College community,” Professor of Mathematics and Director of the DS Program Patrick McDonald said in an email interview. “The seminar brings a wide variety of visitors to campus including individuals who are academics, data scientists from the industry and professionals whose work is informed by Data Science. These visitors have interests that span a wide range of disciplines: humanities, social science and natural science, as well as engineering and business.”
The speakers at the DS seminars have included individuals from The Mind Research Network, NextEra, AT&T, Hampshire College and the University of Iowa.
“It’s nice to meet people from both the academic realm as well as the industry realm come and give us real applications to the things that we’re learning in class,” Naeem Chowdhury (‘15), a first-year student in the DS program, said. “A lot of [class concepts are] still caught up in abstraction. It’s nice to be able to see the many different ways it can be applied.”
Speakers are invited by a faculty member to present on campus. With data professionals visiting the small community of New College, students have a unique opportunity to both learn from and engage with the speakers.
“After every Data Science seminar we get a cooler full of beers and wine and go out to the Chicki Hut or upstairs on the patio in the new East Heiser wing and we just have some drinks with the speakers,” Chowdhury said. “They’ll tell us about their company and if they’re looking for people. It’s nice to meet them on a human level and make that connection.”
Providing students the chance to interact with influential figures in a more informal setting also opens possibilities for students to garner valuable connections and perspectives regarding future pursuits in DS.
“[The DS seminar] is a good way for students to expand their professional network, and to talk to people who are currently in industry and get a sense of which direction they would like to go into post-graduation,” Coordinator for the DS program Nikita Bagley said.
Bagley is responsible for assisting with the logistics of the speaker’s visit to campus. Additionally, Bagley helps connect students with the visiting speakers.
“A lot of our speakers spend most of the day on campus meeting with faculty and students, so I make sure that if there is anyone on campus that would like to meet with the speaker one-on-one to talk about research and work that they have the opportunity to do that,” Bagley added. “And a lot of times the connections made result in internship and employment opportunities.”
The seminar series has been included in the DS program’s budget since the program’s inception, and contributes to the program by providing valuable perspectives for potential areas and topics to consider in DS for both students and faculty.
“For me the seminar provides an opportunity to see things I would otherwise miss and to hear about ideas shaping the world in which we live,” McDonald said. “This has led me to interesting problems whose solution is of immediate interest to those in the mathematics community as well as to those in the communities from which the problems were distilled.”
Although undeniably influential and growing in prominence, DS carries a mysterious air. The many definitions, wide scope of involvement and various skills involved in DS may make the field seem ambiguous. However, by introducing real-world data scientists at New College, the DS seminar series is helping to satiate any curiosity and uncertainty about the current and future state of the field.
“Most of the seminars are targeted for a general audience,” McDonald said. “They provide the community an opportunity to see how things like artificial intelligence are reshaping the way we live. In particular, the seminar provides students with information that will allow them to condition their education to meet the challenges of the world in which they will have to adapt.”
Addressing a general audience, students are able to expose themselves to the field of Data Science and consider whether they would like to learn more about this expanding area.
“People might not necessarily realize you don’t have to come strictly from computer science, math or statistics background to go into Data Science,” Bagley said. “And that’s demonstrated through the seminar series. The seminars cover such a wide variety of things from health care, political analysis, AI, and so many people on campus are interested in all those types of things. A lot of the campus community has been able to come together over shared interests by the seminar series; if we continue to do that, then I think it will help foster a sense of community.”
Since its emergence four years ago, the DS program and seminar series hopes to continue its involvement on campus.
“I hope that the DS seminar continues to evolve as Data Science evolves, and I hope it grows in popularity,” McDonald added. “The Data Science seminar is crucial to the success of the DS program at NCF. It provides NCF faculty with an opportunity to touch base with a rapidly evolving field that is reshaping our traditional intellectual categories and it provides administration with connections to industry that play an important role in providing long-term stability for the College.”