In their final semester of the M.S. in Data Science Program, DSI students take a capstone course designed to provide them with essential hands-on experience. Student teams partner with mentors from DSI Industry Affiliate companies or Columbia faculty to work on dozens of data driven projects. The course empowers students to apply their knowledge of data science towards solving real-world problems, learning through experience about the statistical, computational, engineering and social challenges and trade-offs involved.
“The course is required for all DSI Master’s students,” explains Sining Chen, who has been teaching the course for the past three years. “It is essential that they learn to apply their textbook skills in a professional setting. Students learn a lot through the process, including collaboration, teamwork and professionalism – adding an important element to their resumes.”
The 2022 capstone cohort is DSI’s largest to date, with over 200 students across 43 collaborative research projects. Teams were led by three instructors – Sining Chen, Adjunct Professor of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, Adam Kelleher, Adjunct Associate Professor of Computer Science and Vivian Zhang Biostatician in the Department of Biostatistics. Three course assistants – Katie Kim, Cathy Li and Aayush Verma – also supported the program.
Preparation for the course begins months before, as instructors work with external stakeholders and faculty to develop innovative project concepts for the students. “We work with our partners to make sure the projects are appropriate – not too hard, not too easy, challenging but not too ambitious – and that the data is ready for students to work with. There is a complex set of rubrics that we push all the project proposals towards. The goal is to be ready before a new semester begins, so that students can identify project preferences and consider how their work may impact their career goals.”
Each project has a mentor with a strong data science or similar technical background. Mentors collaborate directly with the students to define project goals and provide important feedback. Oftentimes, developing a direct working relationship with project mentors helps students expand their interests and secure enticing data science positions in diverse industry sectors. DSI has an excellent track record, with 98% job or internship placement following graduation from the M.S. in Data Science program.
At the end of the semester, student teams present their findings to their mentors, professors, fellow students, and invited guests in a poster presentation event. This year’s projects cover a wide range of topics, with four key categories: Natural Language Processing (NLP); Geospatial and Time Series; Computer Vision and Deep Learning; and General Machine Learning. Language related projects, as well as time series and geospatial analysis have been particularly popular to students.
A full list of projects, as well as details of the Fall 2022 Capstone Presentation event, are included below: