Since it was introduced in 2019, the data science minor has drawn interest from UChicago students across disciplines. Students from 11 different majors, including all four collegiate divisions, have chosen a data science minor. David Biron, director of undergraduate studies for data science, anticipates that many will choose to double major in data science and another field.
“We designed the major specifically to enable students who want to combine data science with another B.A.,” Biron said. “We expect this option to be attractive to a fair number of students from every major at UChicago, including the humanities, social sciences and biological sciences.”
Marti Gendel, a rising fourth-year, has used data science to support her major in biology. Since joining the Gene Hackers—a student group interested in synthetic biology and genomics—she has developed an interest in coding, modeling and quantitative methods. Her experience in “Introduction to Data Science” not only showed her how to use these tools in her research, but also how to effectively evaluate how other scientists deploy data science, AI and other approaches.
“One of the challenges in biology is understanding how to read primary literature, reviewing articles and understanding what exactly is the data that’s being presented,” Gendel said. “Now, I have the background to better comprehend how data is collected, analyzed and interpreted in any given scientific article.”
Rising third-year Victoria Kielb has found surprising applications of data science through her work with the Robin Hood Foundation, the Chicago History Museum, and Facebook. In these opportunities, Kielb utilized her data science toolkit to analyze philanthropic dollars raised for a multi-million dollar relief fund; evaluate how museum members of different ages respond to virtual programming; and generate market insights for a product in its development phase.
“It made me realize how powerful data science is in drawing meaningful conclusions and promoting data-driven decision-making,” Kielb said. “It’s really inspiring that I can take part in a field that’s rapidly evolving.”
A new vision for data science
The data science major was designed with this broad applicability in mind, combining technical courses in machine learning, visualization, data engineering and modeling with a project-based focus that gives students experience applying data science to real-world problems. The centerpiece will be the new Data Science Clinic, a capstone, two-quarter sequence that places students on teams with public interest organizations, government agencies, industrial partners, and researchers.
“The Data Science Clinic will provide an understanding of the life cycle of a real-world data science project, from inception and gathering, to modeling and iteration to engineering and implementation,” said David Uminsky, executive director of the UChicago Data Science Initiative. “UChicago students will have a wide variety of opportunities to engage projects across different sectors, disciplines and domains, from problems drawn from environmental and human rights groups to AI-driven finance and industry to cutting-edge research problems from the university, our national labs and beyond.
“This hands-on, authentic learning experience offers the real possibility for the field to grow in a manner that actually reflects the population it purports to engage, with diverse scientists asking novel questions from a wide range of viewpoints.”