A photo of Magdalena Balazinska

New Year’s letter from the eScience director

January 8, 2019

Dear eScience community,

It is with great enthusiasm that we welcome the new year at the eScience Institute! 2019 is particularly special because we are turning the page on the first ten years of the Institute and are looking forward to the next ten.

Magdalena Balazinska

The Institute was founded in 2008 with the mission to empower researchers and students in all fields to answer fundamental questions through the use of large, complex, and noisy data. Today, the Institute has grown to a mature organization with sustained positive impact on the community through our education, research, and community building programs.

We were extremely fortunate last year to welcome several new members to our team: data scientists Jose Hernandez and Anissa Tanweer, research scientists Nicoleta Cristea and Spencer Wood, program specialist Rachael Murray, and grants manager Ann Nykamp. Their presence is making our Institute significantly stronger and able to support a growing data science community. We also bid farewell to Brittany Fiore-Gartland who joined AstumU and Jake VanderPlas who joined Google. Both had been with eScience for many years and we thank them for their exceptional contributions to the Institute.

The Institute had numerous accomplishments in the last academic school year. We helped over 100 University of Washington (UW) researchers in office hours, served more than 1500 attendee hours in seminars, and over 400 people attended our various short courses. Our set of hackweeks has continued to grow. The traditional Astro Hack Week became an international event and was held in the Netherlands. Neurohackweek expanded from a one to two week event, now called NeuroHackademy. We also held Geohackweek, Oceanhackweek, and several smaller-scale, more specialized hackweeks. Our Winter Incubator and Data Science for Social Good programs were highly successful. I invite everyone to visit our website and subscribe to our newsletter to stay in touch with our various activities.

Several new, large-scale initiatives were launched in 2018, including the DIRAC (Data Intensive Research in Astrophysics and Cosmology) Institute, which is creating a cutting edge environment where scientists harness interdisciplinary expertise to solve some of the most difficult questions facing astronomy today, and the NSF TRIPODS Algorithmic Foundations of Data Science Institute (ADSI), which adds expertise in the theoretical aspects of data science, specifically machine learning. DIRAC is led by Daniela Huppenkothen, Andy Connolly, and Mario Juric. ADSI is led by Maryam Fazel, Zaid Harchaoui, and Sham Kakade.

From left, participants listen at the UW Data Science Summit; students enjoy a meeting of the Research Computing Club; Data Science Seminar speaker danah boyd presents. Photos, Robin Brooks, eScience Institute

In 2018, we also started an annual UW Data Science Summit, which brings together faculty, researchers, students, and practitioners for two days of presentations, tutorials, and discussion on novel data science methods and their applications. In 2019, the summit is growing to become the Northwest Data Science Summit, co-organized with the University of British Columbia and hosted this coming May in the heart of the UW campus.

In terms of formal education, several new departments have started to offer Data Science Options, AKA data science specializations. Human Centered Design and Engineering as well as Statistics have formalized their undergraduate options. Psychology added both a regular and advanced option to their program, and Genome Sciences expanded their offerings to include a regular option in addition to an advanced one, which they already had at the graduate level. A total of thirteen units now offer data science specializations at the graduate or undergraduate level, or both. Many more are working toward adding these specializations in 2019. We have also continued our successful Data Science Career Fair. Held in the Husky Union Building, the fair attracts over 40 companies and 900 students annually.

New this year, we also rolled out a freshman-level “Introduction to Data Science” course, jointly taught by Statistics, the Information School, and Computer Science & Engineering (STAT180/INFO180/CSE180), with the inaugural offering led by Statistics. This course complements our “Data Programming” (CSE160) and “Data & Society” (SOC225) courses to form a solid introductory foundation for pre-major undergraduate students. In 2019, we are launching “Intermediate Data Programming” (CSE163) to provide a deeper introductory sequence in data science-focused programming. You can find a comprehensive list of all the data science courses offered at the UW on our website.

We have many other new programs starting in 2019. We are launching a new Industry Affiliates Program to grow our connections and collaborations with industry. We have reorganized our successful Working Groups into Special Interest Groups (SIGs). These communities of practice bring together researchers around data science topics of common interest. Our SIGs include Data Science Education and Career Paths (leads Sarah Stone and Tyler McCormick), Reproducible Science and Open Source Software (lead Ben Marwick), Data Science Studies (leads Anissa Tanweer and Cecilia Aragon), Neuroinformatics (leads Bing Brunton and Ariel Rokem), and Satellite Image Analysis (leads Valentina Staneva and Amanda Tan).

I am tremendously proud of our accomplishments in the past year and I am looking forward to our growing impact in 2019!

Magdalena Balazinska
Professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering
Director of the UW eScience Institute
Associate Vice Provost for Data Science
University of Washington