Columbia’s Data Science Institute has recently introduced a new director, Jeanette Wing, to lead the new Seed Funds Program and Faculty Recruitment Program, and to expand undergraduate research opportunities.
The Data Science Institute is dedicated to introducing data science to faculty and students across Columbia’s schools and to using “data for good,” which Wing has made the institute’s tagline. The institute has formed connections with over 250 members of the University across 12 undergraduate and graduate schools in an effort to use data science to approach social and academic problems across a variety of fields, including neuroscience, public policy, and journalism.
After previously serving as corporate vice president of Microsoft Research, Wing was appointed as the Avanessians Director and professor of computer science at Columbia last July.
Her major projects will be the Seed Funds Program, an initiative set up by the Data Science Institute that is aimed at fostering collaborations with data science experts and specific domain experts. The program selects five projects annually, with a combined $100,000 fund.
Wing’s arrival coincides with the Data Science Institute’s launching of the Faculty Recruitment Program, a fund dedicated to hiring faculty from other departments who are interested in data science, as well as funding the hiring of data science experts in other schools or departments.
Wing said that both of these programs are crucial to the Data Science Institute’s mission, as they foster connections across Columbia’s schools that will lead to productive collaboration in order to apply data science to a greater social good.
“What I have found in talking to many faculty, administrators, and deans across campus is that a lot of people are sitting on really interesting data science, but they don’t know what questions to ask of it or what the data analytics techniques are to unlock some of the knowledge in that data,” Wing said. “At the same time, the data scientists are always looking for interesting data sets to see where the limitations of their techniques are.”
Her work at the Data Science Institute will also be geared toward increasing undergraduate engagement with data science and research projects, with the assistance of faculty members and graduate students.
In addition to the institute’s traditional hackathons, training courses, and programs such as Campus Connections, Wing said she hopes to put a more systematic program in place to increase undergraduate involvement in research.
“The undergraduates here are bright with well-developed skills, and are fully capable of helping around the University, and can help spread the expertise of data science throughout the community,” Wing said.
Wing stated that her goal at the Data Science Institute is to advance the state of data science by pushing the frontiers of the field through research, transforming all fields through the application of data science, and using data science responsibly to resolve social issues.
“We want to use data to tackle societal challenges such as energy, climate change, health care, and education, [and] even using data science to look at societal disruptions such as fake news,” Wing said. “We need to make sure that the models and algorithms in use are fair, transparent, ethical, and safe, and secure.”
Wing said that she appreciates returning to academia as a way to analyze the motivations behind these technology races, especially when it comes to artificial intelligence.
“There’s no time to take a step back from this race and understand why some of these techniques actually work, or what the science is that underlies this incredible technology that continues to astound me in terms of the application,” Wing said. “It’s only in academia that you have people whose responsibility is to push the frontiers of science.”