March 21, 2018

Students and campus student organizations no longer have to search far to find resources, space and a community to answer all of their data science questions.  Data Science Nexus is a new program designed to help unite students interested in data science from all across campus. The program, housed on the first floor of Moffitt Library, is a collaborative program between Moffitt Library, the Division of Data Science, and UC Berkeley data science student clubs. Through Nexus, student-led initiatives have combined in this newly available space at Moffitt Library to create a dynamic peer consulting program, supported by both these student groups and the library.

Nexus invites students from all fields and experience levels to join the data science community, by hosting workshops, sponsoring data science events, providing peer consulting and working as an umbrella program to connect students with resources and researchers.

A Coalition of Student Groups

Nexus currently involves a dozen student groups, including the Statistics Undergraduate Student Association (SUSA), the Data Science Society at Berkeley (DSSB), and Machine Learning at Berkeley (ML@B).  

Inspired by the rising interest in data science courses, programs and clubs on campus, Alexander Ivanoff, a student leader within the Division of Data Sciences and Ross Mattheis, a Library Data Science Fellow, played leading roles developing Nexus. With so many avenues to explore data science —including classes, student groups, and workshops — there had yet to be one specific place for students to navigate all the opportunities at once.  Ivanoff and Mattheis saw a need to condense many data science efforts happening around campus, making it clear where students could go depending on their particular data science interests.

“I remember two years ago, it seemed like there was a new data science student group popping up every week.  It wasn’t helpful to have the community so fragmented,” Ivanoff said.

The goal of Nexus, Ivanoff continued, is to reach out to everyone in the campus community who might have a data science question, whether it be a first-semester freshman, a graduate student in philosophy, or a machine learning expert.  Nexus helps students find a place to start their line of questioning and connects them with tools and fellow researchers to support them along the way.

“Students can go to a consulting group here with a research question in mind and say something like, ‘Hey, I’m interested in whether Pharma prices have gone up.  How can I start?’” Ivanoff said. “There are so many questions out there that can have huge consequences and that can be executed with just a simple query.”

“Clubs are the best way for students to get what they want, because students are the ones who make them,” Ivanoff said.  “So the goal is for Nexus to be supported by clubs, but to provide resources for the entire community.”

 people sitting around tables

Data Science Nexus meeting with Dean David Culler 

Creating an Innovative Creative Space

This semester, new space within Moffitt LIbrary and support from campus librarians provided an opportunity for the Nexus program to move into a tangible and collaborative space.

Working through the Division of Data Sciences, Ivanoff met with librarians and student club organizers to understand what each group would want from the space and what they could contribute.  Librarians, long-time proponents of student research, were interested in providing the resources and space to help support student groups. Student groups were looking for a place to meet, host industry events, and collaborate with other student groups.

Data Science Librarian Josh Quan also played a lead role helping to carve out the space for Nexus within Moffitt Library.  When students have questions that go beyond the scope of their courses, Quan said, they sometimes need to turn to avenues beyond their GSI’s or course instructors.  As a librarian, he could serve as a resource for them. The process of building a space for Nexus in Moffitt happened very fast, he continued, and the space will continue to evolve as they receive feedback from the community.  

“The idea was that data science is becoming really popular, and realistically, there’s not enough in-person resource to always have someone to go to with your questions.” Quan said.  “My goal was to work with the Division to try some ideas out, and we can iterate over time to provide this service point.”

Data Science Peer Consulting

The Peer Consulting program is one avenue hosted through Nexus where students can help one another explore critical data science questions.  There are over twenty peer consultants who work each week to provide data science peer advising, a service which is accessible to all Berkeley students.

SUSA is one of the clubs that provides peer consulting through Nexus.  Many of SUSA’s members have experience in statistics, data science and machine learning, according to Adish Jain, a member of SUSA who also serves as a peer consultant.  SUSA had started hosting smaller office hours last fall semester, Jain explained, but were able to formalize the process, advertise it better, and ultimately make their services more accessible through Data Sciences Nexus.

“I was able to help someone with their psychology work,” Jain said of his recent experience as a peer consultant.  “They needed help with a Data 8 module. I’d taken the class before. It was a really cool way to connect with someone like that.”

Data Science Nexus has also been an opportunity for their club to grow their relationship with other data science community members.  “There hasn’t been any organization to facilitate such a community,” Jain said. “This will help us close the gap that exists in this space.”

Nexus and Industry Opportunities

Outside of the library, the Division of Data Sciences can facilitate building relationships between student groups and corporate sponsors through Nexus.  The Division of Data Sciences recently connected SUSA with Microsoft and DSSB with COTA Capital LLC. The two student groups will soon hold industry events in partnership with them.  Nexus can replicate the support that the EECS Department provides its students, Anthony Suen, Program Coordinator of the Division of Data Sciences said. The Division also hopes to scale up the Nexus program to include partnerships with corporations relevant across more disciplines and fields of study.

“We’ve seen what already works,” Suen said.  “It’s a win-win scenario. We want to help provide a continuous flow of support and contacts to student groups as well as a constant stream of events that students across campus will attend.”