Student Fellow FAQs

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The connections I made through DSSG are ones that I’ll carry throughout my career. My team established a working environment grounded in collaboration, communication, and meaningful relationships.”

Hikari Murayama, 2020 DSSG Student Fellow

Frequently Asked Questions

Want to learn more about applying to become a Student Fellow in the UW Data Science for Social Good (DSSG) program? Click the questions below to expand and show the answers.

Are students from colleges and universities other than the University of Washington eligible to apply?

Yes. You may be a student from any degree-granting college or university.

I am an incoming or prospective university student, a recent graduate, or a student at a data science boot camp or in a certificate program. Am I eligible to apply?

Unfortunately you are not eligible to apply. Only current students at degree-granting colleges or universities may apply.  Applicants must be enrolled students in the Spring 2023 term AND enrolled graduate students in Autumn 2023. This means undergraduates are eligible to apply only if they are seniors who are beginning graduate school in the fall.

You are, however, eligible to apply as a project lead, if you have a project you would like to propose for the program. Please see our Call for Proposals for further information.

I am an international student in the U.S., or a student at a college or university outside the U.S. What visas are required to apply for the program?

Since fellows receive a monetary stipend, international students at U.S. institutions are required to have an F1 work visa in place prior to submitting an application, and a Curricular Practical Training (CPT) work authorization in place prior to beginning the program. Please note that we do not accept Optional Practical Training (OPT) work authorization as a basis for participation. If you have an EAD work permit, you may be eligible to apply – please indicate the expiration date in your application. The University of Washington maintains this website with information about F1 regulations, but keep in mind that non-UW students must apply for work authorization from their own universities.

Please contact the International Student Services office at your home institution for eligibility questions and to begin the process of obtaining work authorization. Unfortunately, applicants with the following visas are not eligible: B1, J1, H4, or travel visas. Fellows are not permitted to work as volunteers.

If you are a U.S. citizen attending a four-year college or university outside of the U.S., you are eligible to apply for the program and do not need a visa or work authorization to participate. 

UW cannot sponsor visas for program participants, so non-U.S. citizens attending colleges or universities outside the U.S. are not eligible to apply.

What is your rate of acceptance?

Historically, we have received 150 to 200 applications from prospective student fellows each year, and we have admitted 8-16 fellows to the program, so our acceptance rate tends to be about five to eight percent. This year, up to 8 students will be accepted into the program.

What are the chances of undergraduates being accepted?

This year, only undergraduates with senior standing who are entering graduate school in Fall 2023 are eligible to apply. This is our first year implementing this policy, so we are unable to predict the acceptance rate of students in this situation.

Where will teams work this summer?

This summer, all fellows must be located in the Seattle area, where they will work from the University of Washington campus on a daily basis. Fellows are required to work at the eScience Institute’s Data Science Studio during most regular business hours, with some flexibility for teams to decide when remote work is acceptable under certain conditions. Project leads may collaborate with their teams either in-person or remotely from wherever they live, depending on selected projects. Fellows will participate in most program-wide activities and team-specific activities in person, although Zoom and other technologies will be utilized as needed to facilitate remote or hybrid work. In-person plans are subject to change based on current public health guidelines and university policies.

Do you provide support for students who need additional financial assistance to participate?

Yes. In addition to the standard stipend, all students are eligible to apply for the UW DSSG Opportunity Scholarship which offers financial awards to students whose circumstances pose barriers to their participation. This is intended to help with expenses such as equipment costs, disability accommodations beyond those typically covered by the University of Washington, housing costs, out-of-pocket medical expenses, childcare or dependent care costs, or other needs. For more information, see the link above.

Do you offer housing, or provide funding for rent or relocation?

The program does not provide housing or pay for rent or relocation. UW DSSG fellows are responsible for securing their own housing. Once the cohort is finalized, we will add incoming fellows to a Slack channel; some fellows have used this in the past to coordinate with others in the program on finding housing. We will also provide several links for seeking sublets or short-term housing.

I can participate for most of the scheduled time between June 12th and August 18th, but I have other activities such as vacation, travel or conferences  planned during this time. Can I apply?

It depends. Fellows are expected to participate in program activities in-person and full-time throughout the program. Absences cannot be accommodated during the first two or final two weeks of the program (June 12 – 23 and August 7 – 18). During the middle six weeks of the program (June 26 – August 4), applicants may miss only up to two days of DSSG work for pre-planned activities. Such absences must be requested in advance. When submitting an application as a prospective DSSG fellow, you will be asked to affirm that you can comply with these attendance policies.

What level of programming experience is necessary?

We do not have rigid requirements for programming experience, and we intentionally look for a variety of technical skills. But at minimum, we expect that you should be comfortable using one programming language to solve data/software problems by quickly discovering and learning what you need to know. Strong applicants have experience coding on projects completed outside of formal introductory programming courses. Languages commonly used in our projects include Python, R, SQL and JavaScript. Prior experience with one or more of these is helpful but not required, provided you can learn new software tools quickly.

I am not sure what is meant by the question about “social good” experience in the application. What kinds of activities should be included there?

We have an open definition of “social good,” and are truly interested in hearing how you interpret this for yourself. But relevant experience might include social justice activism, civic engagement, community organizing, applied research addressing pressing social issues, work with nonprofit organizations, civic technology development, humanitarian assistance, community-based participatory research, charitable fundraising, and many other things. Relevant experience does not need to be technical in nature, nor does it need to overlap with your educational/research activities.

When will I receive a response to my application?

March 10, 2023 is our target date for notifying applicants who have been selected to advance to the interview stage of the vetting process.

When will I know if I have been accepted into the program or not?

April 10, 2023 is our target date for making offers of admission into our program.

What technical tools are used by the research teams?

This really varies depending on the needs of the project. Research teams have used a variety of programming languages in the past, but the most common are Python, R, and SQL. Most teams in the past have used cloud computing resources to some extent in their work. Many of our projects have a spatial analysis component and incorporate ArcGIS, QGIS or Google Earth Engine. Nearly all projects involve some sort of visualization, which might involve learning tools like Matplotlib, Shiny, D3, Tableau, and others. Many teams also end up using Jupyter Notebooks for part of their workflow. The only tools that are pretty much universal across all DSSG projects are Git and Github for version control. You are not required to have expertise in any specific languages or tools to apply for the program, and we will provide tutorials on most if not all of these technologies as needed throughout the summer.

I don’t have a computer. Can I borrow one?

We expect all participants to have a personal laptop for all DSSG activities. However, if you do not have a laptop, we may be able to loan you one.

When will this year’s DSSG projects be announced? If I am selected as a DSSG Student Fellow, will I get to choose which project I will work on?

We make every effort to have projects in place prior to making offers of admission so that short-listed candidates can have the opportunity to learn a little about each project and indicate their preferred assignment.  We try to ensure that every fellow is assigned to either their first or second choice of project, but this isn’t always possible depending on how preferences are distributed across the cohort. We also consider other factors when forming teams, such as variations in education level (e.g. early v. advanced graduate students), technical skills, and experience working toward social good.

How are the 10 weeks of the DSSG program structured?

The first two weeks of the program (June 12-23) have a lot of structured group activities, such as icebreakers and program orientation, essential technical tutorials, stakeholder analyses and field research events, ethics and human-centered design workshops, team building sessions, and project charter development. During the rest of the program (June 26 – August 18), there are minimal structured activities for all program participants; these include a weekly “spotlight” meeting that showcases the progress of project teams and a program-wide meeting for check-ins and announcements. We also occasionally offer tutorials throughout the summer as needed. Aside from that, you will develop a regular team schedule in conjunction with your project leads, data science mentors, and possibly external stakeholders. The final week of the program will include a public presentation of your work.

How are DSSG projects managed during the program?

While project leads provide the objectives of the project, students are given a significant opportunity to shape their daily work and come up with collaborative strategies for bringing their projects to fruition. Navigating ambiguity, particularly as projects are getting underway in the first few weeks of the program, is a key part of the DSSG that can be both challenging and rewarding. The program is structured this way to promote creativity, skill-building and teamwork. Teams are allowed to use project management software if desired, although most prior teams have chosen not to do so.

What can I expect to learn in the program?

In dividing the work on your project, each individual’s own learning objectives will be balanced with the needs of the team’s research question. You might get much better at certain skills you’re already bringing with you into the program, and you might learn entirely new skills as well. In the past, some of our fellows have picked up a totally new programming language, gotten familiar with cloud computing resources, trained a machine learning algorithm for the first time, etc. It’s hard to say exactly what skills you will spend your time on, as each project will be different in nature; moreover, within each team, individuals may be working on different aspects of the project. Having said that, all students can expect to learn a lot about cleaning data, developing software, using best practices in reproducible science, working in interdisciplinary and cross-sector teams, grappling with ethical questions in data-intensive work, and thinking from a human-centered design perspective. Also, you will likely be working on a project in a domain or problem space that is new to you, and you can expect to learn a lot about that subject matter.

I prefer to work independently. Are there options for working outside of a project team?

No. Teamwork is an indispensable part of the DSSG experience. Every year, fellows overwhelmingly rank working collaboratively with their teammates as one of the most impactful and rewarding aspects of the program. But it can also be challenging, and we realize that this is not the kind of challenge everyone seeks. If you know that you become stressed by things like waiting for consensus to emerge, sharing attribution for your work, or modulating your pace of work to accommodate others, then this program might not be the best fit for you.

What kind of mentorship do DSSG Fellows get?

Each team will have one or two Project Leads; these are typically the individuals who proposed the project and will sustain the work after the summer is over. Each team will also have one or more Data Scientists who act as mentors; these are research scientists from the eScience Institute who provide advice on tools, methods, and software design, and sometimes provide project management support as well. The program will also have a Human-Centered Data Science Mentor; this person works across all teams to help integrate stakeholder perspectives and ensure that the work is well-documented and reproducible.

What are my obligations as a DSSG Student Fellow?

This is a full-time (40 hour/week) time commitment, and you are expected to show up to all meetings and work alongside your teammates every business day (Mon-Fri, except holidays). You are expected to fully participate in all program activities, and to be a team player. You are expected to abide by our Code of Conduct, act ethically, use best practices in open and reproducible science whenever possible, do rigorous research, participate in program evaluation surveys, and keep the needs of your project leads and other stakeholders in mind. You will also be asked to provide input for at least one blog post about your project or your experience in the program.

Can I receive course credit for my participation in the program?

The University of Washington does not provide course credit for participation in the DSSG. However, some students in the past have used the program to fulfill internship requirements at their own universities. Those details can be worked out with your university, and we are happy to provide whatever documentation may be required.

Can I have someone from eScience look at my application and give me feedback before submitting?

No. All of our research staff are involved in either reviewing applications or running the DSSG program, so they cannot provide specific feedback on application materials to particular individuals.