- What is the Faculty of Computing & Data Sciences? What is its mission?
- How is CDS different from traditional schools and colleges at BU? Why is it not a school or college?
- What does it mean for students and faculty to work at disciplinary crossroads? How does this contribute to advancing the mission of CDS?
- Does this mean that advancing fundamental scholarship in computing and data science takes a back seat to the many applications of computing and data science to other disciplines?
- Many universities have developed structures and programs for computing and data sciences with an eye on promoting interdisciplinary research and catering to the in-demand degree programs in that space. How is BU’s effort different?
- Do you have any concerns that today’s excitement surrounding data sciences research and education may fizzle in the same way that other technology hype cycles have come and gone? Why is data science any different?
- Where will CDS be housed?
- What excites you the most about that building?
- What degree programs will be offered through CDS?
- If I am a prospective student, how do I apply?
- If I am a current BU student, will I be able to apply to transfer to CDS, or alternatively, take advantage of its programs?
- If I am a current BU faculty member, will I have the opportunity to join CDS?
- Looking ahead, how do you see the evolution of CDS?
- When will the hiring of CDS faculty begin?
What is the Faculty of Computing & Data Sciences? What is its mission?
The Faculty of Computing & Data Sciences (CDS) is an interdisciplinary academic unit comprising scholars and researchers who are solely appointed in that unit as well as faculty with joint appointments in various schools and colleges at BU. CDS’ mission is to be a catalyst for synergy and integration of research and education programs in computing and data sciences across the landscape of academic disciplines at BU.
How is CDS different from traditional schools and colleges at BU? Why is it not a school or college?
That’s an important question. The traditional organization of academic institutions into colleges, schools, and departments is largely reflective of the diversity of disciplines in academe, from science and professional disciplines to the arts and humanities, each defined by the specific scholarship it pursues. CDS is different in that it is defined by how its faculty members pursue scholarship and not by what scholarship they pursue. CDS is defined by the computing and data sciences ways of thinking, which is increasingly becoming a universal language spoken across disciplines.
What does it mean for students and faculty to work at disciplinary crossroads? How does this contribute to advancing the mission of CDS?
Imagine an academic unit that brings together academicians who are doctors and economists, lawyers and marketing experts, education and communications specialists, social scientists and computational humanists, as well as scholars whose academic careers are anchored in computer science and engineering, and in mathematics and statistics. That is what CDS is meant to be.
In the unique ecosystem of CDS, for example, a Medical Campus faculty member with a specialty in oncology might work with a data sciences PhD candidate to further cancer research. An education policy scholar, jointly appointed in BU’s Wheelock College of Education & Human Development and CDS, might work with a statistical machine-learning expert and an applied cryptographer to analyze large private data sets to derive models in support of evidence-based policy making in public schools. And, with help from a cognitive neuroscience colleague, a CDS theologian might analyze fMRI data to develop predictive models of how people who hold different belief systems are likely to respond to change and societal strife.
In most universities, this type of promising collaboration occurs by chance, and is more often the exception rather than the rule. At CDS, our success will be defined by the comingling of experts and academic disciplines, whatever the subject matter may be.
Does this mean that advancing fundamental scholarship in computing and data science takes a back seat to the many applications of computing and data science to other disciplines?
Not at all.
Fundamental computing and data science scholarship is critically important, and what we learn and teach about the underpinnings of computational and data-driven methodologies will be invaluable to the new programs we are launching. At BU, these pursuits will continue, primarily in the Departments of Computer Science, Electrical & Computing Engineering, and Mathematics & Statistics. I anticipate a great deal of collaboration and exchange between those departments and CDS. Additionally, CDS will complement and augment BU’s existing strengths in these departments by recruiting faculty and students focused on making fundamental contributions to computing and to data science that are inspired by research challenges that emerge from interdisciplinary pursuits by their colleagues in CDS.
Many universities have developed structures and programs for computing and data sciences with an eye on promoting interdisciplinary research and catering to the in-demand degree programs in that space. How is BU’s effort different?
The difference is the structure of CDS and the culture of BU.
Most efforts I am aware of — and there are many — are variants of an academic unit that integrates existing departments and programs related to computing and data science under a new academic unit, typically a new division, school, or college. These efforts amount to a consolidation of the methodological disciplines underlying computing and data sciences — effectively, a repackaging that results in a larger academic unit of cognate disciplines — but in a new silo. Such a structure does little to bridge disciplinary silos. The forward-looking “hub and spoke” model we adopted at BU is very different. We set up CDS as a new, truly integrative academic unit that serves as a connecting tissue for a host of disciplines from across the University, while augmenting and complementing the traditional academic homes of computing and data science in the College of Arts & Sciences and the College of Engineering, which will remain anchored in the best traditions of liberal arts and engineering, respectively.
Do you have any concerns that today’s excitement surrounding data sciences research and education may fizzle in the same way that other technology hype cycles have come and gone? Why is data science any different?
I get that question often. It is really important to underscore that hype cycles are often associated with inflated expectations for new technologies and the eventual settling of these expectations when the technologies mature. Data science is not a technology, and it is not new.
Data science is about extracting knowledge from data (whether large or small). One can trace the roots of data science to the 18th and 19th centuries and the introduction of regression analysis. Over the last 200 years, our ability to extract knowledge from data has progressed significantly, thanks to the advent of computing and database technologies and the development of algorithmic methods. The importance of (and the need for a workforce trained in) data science is tightly related to the amounts and types of data we are able to generate, collect, and store, and those are growing exponentially in every sector of society. In fact, with every technological hype cycle (from internet, to mobiles and wearables, to web and social media, to genome sequencing, etc.), the value of data science has increased.
Where will CDS be housed?
This is one of the most exciting aspects of CDS. BU is currently building a 19-story, 350,000-square-foot Center for Computing & Data Sciences at the heart of its Charles River Campus. CDS will be the anchor tenant of that building, sharing it with the Department of Mathematics & Statistics, Department of Computer Science, and the Hariri Institute for Computing. The building is designed as a vertical campus that connects a “CDS public square” on the lower floors with classrooms and labs for our math, stats, and computer science programs on the middle floors, which are transitioned seamlessly into the flexible and dynamic collaborative research spaces supporting the Hariri Institute for Computing and CDS.
What excites you the most about that building?
The new building will be a physical embodiment of the centrality and collaborative nature of CDS. Its central location at the heart of the Charles River Campus is a manifestation of the role that computing plays in academia as the connecting tissue for interdisciplinary pursuits. Just as CDS is at the crossroads of scholarly endeavors at BU, the building is physically on the paths connecting one BU landmark to the other! The paths from the College of Arts & Sciences to Questrom School of Business, from Kilachand Honors College to the School of Law, from the College of Fine Arts to the College of Communication, from the College of Engineering to the College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College, or from Warren Towers to the Dahod Family Alumni Center all go through the CDS building.
What degree programs will be offered through CDS?
We anticipate that CDS will offer new programs at the undergraduate, master’s, and PhD levels. In line with CDS’ two-pronged approach to pursuing scholarship, these academic programs will have one of two flavors, focusing on either the methodologies or the applications of computing and data science. In addition, we anticipate that CDS will be a catalyst for the development of new tracks or specializations in existing programs offered through BU’s schools and colleges.
CDS currently offers an undergraduate degree in Data Science, an undergraduate minor in data science, and a PhD in Computing & Data Sciences.
If I am a prospective student, how do I apply?
Students interested in Undergraduate programs in CDS should apply through BU Undergraduate Admissions. Students interested in our doctoral program can apply through our CDS applicant portal.
If I am a current BU student, will I be able to apply to transfer to CDS, or alternatively, take advantage of its programs?
By all means. CDS is meant to be a porous academic unit that provides students with the necessary agility to steer their education and training. As such, new programs offered in CDS, or jointly offered with other schools and colleges at BU, will be designed to allow for this agility. CDS is likely to introduce “add-on” components to existing degree programs.
If I am a current BU faculty member, will I have the opportunity to join CDS?
Looking ahead, how do you see the evolution of CDS?
Good question. At this point, I can say that by building the Center for Computing & Data Sciences and by setting up CDS, we have the perfect runway from which BU can launch its ambitious journey into the world of computational and data-driven discovery and innovation. Where this journey takes us will be shaped, in large part, by the crew members who will join our fleet and by the ambitious missions that they will choose to pursue.
When will the hiring of CDS faculty begin?
Our search for scholars who believe in our vision and mission is in full swing and going on throughout the whole year.
We are looking for people with excellent credentials and the desire to work in an environment that is free of some of the limitations of traditional academic departments. Simply put, we are building a big tent without walls, and we welcome people whose intellectual curiosity and ambition transcend the interests of a single department or traditional academic unit. We also encourage teams of faculty at multiple institutions who regularly collaborate with one another to consider joining us as a group.
If you are a scholar for whom the culture and the environment that I have described for CDS is of interest, please do not hesitate to contact me (Azer Bestavros, Associate Provost for Computing & Data Sciences) at firstname.lastname@example.org; and please spread the word!