Founding Director, Institute for Data Science

2015 – 2022. Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.

My collaboration with the IBM Centre For Advanced Studies helped Carleton University be the first university in Canada to receive a $1M startup grant from IBM for the establishment of a data science research centre in 2015. I became the Founding Director of the new Carleton University Institute for Data Science (CUIDS). Our new institute occupies the entire top floor of the Herzberg Annex shown above, housing six newly hired professors, a secretary, and myself, plus research labs and meeting rooms.

We had in-depth discussions with colleagues across campus, IBM, other corporate partners in Ottawa (Shopify, Mindbridge, Interset, Kx Systems) and federal government agencies interested in data science (Statistics Canada, Bank of Canada, Defence Research and Development Canada) on the design of a collaborative interdisciplinary graduate program of high academic quality and high relevance for industry and government. A strong consensus emerged that the greatest need was for students from technology programs in Science & Engineering to develop the ability to collaborate with students from Business, Arts, Social Science, and Natural Sciences, and vice versa. Thus emerged the idea to create a graduate program where students learn hands-on how to collaborate with students from very different disciplines by doing collaborative interdisciplinary data science projects.

I initiated and led negotiations with 17 departments across campus: Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Business, Chemistry, Cognitive Science, Communication, Computer Science, Economics, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Geography, Health Sciences, History, Information Technology, International Affairs, Physics, Psychology, Public Policy & Administration. Needless to say, it was not easy to negotiate a common structure for a collaborative graduate program between such a large number of very diverse departments. Our program consists of a common core and additional discipline specific courses for each field. At the heart of the common core, required for all students from all disciplines, is the DATA5000 data science interdisciplinary project. All students are organized into project groups of two students, each: one student from Computer Science, Engineering or IT, and the other student from the Natural Sciences, Business, Arts or Social Science. Each project group has a different project topic. For example, a Computer Science and Business student may collaborate on a supply chain analytics project. The Business student provides the business knowledge and data, and the Computer Science student provides the technical skills to build a software solution. Similarly, a Geography student and a Computer Engineering student could collaborate on a smart city or climate change problem. A Communications student and an IT student could collaborate on a Twitter analytics question. Many of these projects are supported by our industry and government partners mentioned above, who provide real life research questions and data.

At the end of each academic year, CUIDS organizes Data Day, our main annual outreach event with typically 500 to 800 attendees from academia, industry and government. In addition to technical presentations and panel discussions, every DATA5000 project group presents their project results. This event provides a great environment for our students to network with potential employers, as well as opportunities for our professors to network with potential industry and government collaborators.

Our interdisciplinary data science program is in very high demand, and admission criteria are among the highest on campus. Within seven years, enrolment grew to over 250 Master’s students. CUIDS has become the third largest graduate program at Carleton University and is now front-and-centre in the university’s strategic plan. In 2022, the university approved a PhD program in data science.