Data Science Undergraduate Peer Support

By Tiffany Liang

Data science, given its scale at Berkeley, can be tricky to navigate: which data science courses should you take? What are the major requirements? How can you get help with Jupyter Notebook issues? 

To accommodate such data science needs, the Data Science Undergraduate Studies (DSUS) program provides peer support⁠—trained undergraduate students who assist with both the technical (Data Peer Consultants) and academic (Data Peer Advisors) sides of data science at Berkeley.  

Data Peer Consultants

Data Peer Consultants provide technical data science support for all Berkeley students and staff, helping with how to use Jupyter Notebooks, debugging code, working with Python libraries, and so on. Since merging with the D-Lab, they now have drop-in virtual office hours where anyone is welcome, from the biology student needing help with a data science module to the graduate student seeking technical advice for their thesis. Data Peer Consultants also host technical workshops on Tableau, SQL, Pandas, and more, as well as career workshops on the tech recruiting process.

 

Training

Students interested in becoming Peer Consultants must go through an application and interview process, where the team looks for strong and diverse technical backgrounds (e.g., proficiency in multiple programming languages)⁠, passion for teaching others, and specific skills (e.g., R) that are in demand at consultations. 

At the beginning of each semester, new consultants attend two orientation sessions where they learn about the team’s vision and how to provide high-quality consultations. They are also enrolled in the Data Science Instructional Support Seminar, and receive mentorship from graduate and staff consultants (from D-LabResearch IT, and the UC Berkeley Library) throughout the semester.

Meet Some of the Peer Consultants

Vincent Lao

Vincent Lao, a current student lead of the Data Peer Consultants, is a fourth-year studying data science, with an emphasis on environmental science and statistics. He joined the team as a way to get more involved in the data science community. As data science courses already offer lots of resources and well-trained TAs, Vincent commonly helps students in other domains. 

“I wanted to work more directly with people who needed help outside of data science students,” Vincent said. Being a Data Peer Consultant presented a great opportunity to engage with such individuals and practice articulating data science concepts.

Richa Bhattacharya

Richa Bhattacharya is a junior studying data science and computer science, and is in her fourth semester as a Peer Consultant. She has always enjoyed tutoring and collaborating with her peers, so becoming a Peer Consultant was quite fitting. 

“What has been most fulfilling to me is getting to teach technical workshops to the general UC Berkeley community,” Richa said. “I've taught workshops in Python, R, and more, and it is extremely rewarding to see the level of technical understanding and confidence students can gain after a 1-2 hour workshop. By providing this additional support, we can truly make Data Science accessible to anyone and everyone trying to enter the field or using principles for their own projects and research.” 

Learn more about the other students behind the Data Peer Consulting program here

Future Plans

First implemented in late 2017, the Data Peer Consulting program is still relatively new, and so the team is working on getting its name out. The program has recently created a blog and is looking forward to coordinating more workshops in the upcoming months. Please email ds-peer-consulting@berkeley.edu if you want to connect, are interested in joining the team, or if you'd like to join their mailing list to receive news about upcoming workshops, new blog articles, recruiting timelines, etc. 

Data Peer Advisors

Data Peer Advisors, although similar in name to the Data Peer Consultants, offer a different kind of peer support. They help students navigate the academic data science scene at Berkeley: major and minor requirements, courses, clubs, research, campus resources, and so on. As undergraduate students themselves, Peer Advisors are able to share their firsthand experiences and give an insider’s take on what data science at Cal is like.

They offer drop-in hours, monitor Piazza for student posts asking for peer recommendations, and host a Data Science Course Enrollment Night(link is external) every semester. Additionally, Data Peer Advisors speak at panels on Cal Day and Golden Bear Orientation (GBO) to address any questions from prospective data science students. 

 

Training

Data Peer Advisors are selected based on how well their experiences with data science courses/extracurriculars complement the team, their background (e.g., transfer, reentry, underrepresented, or international student), and their chosen domain emphasis. 

“But, to me, the most important factor is how much do they want to help their peers,” says Marjorie Ensor, the supervisor of Data Peer Advisors. “I want to feel that they enjoy helping others and are willing to give back to the data science community.“

New peer advisors attend training sessions the week before the start of a semester, where they learn about FERPA (student confidentiality), best note-taking practices, and internal policies for the data science major/minor. There are also weekly meetings where campus partners like the Basic Needs Office and the Path to Care Office provide workshops and specialized training for the Peer Advisors.

Meet Some of The Peer Advisors

Jenna Woo

Jenna Woo, a junior studying data science with an emphasis in Business and Industrial Analytics, became a Peer Advisor in hopes that sharing her experiences would make data science seem less intimidating. 

“I like being able to share things that I wish I had known when I was first starting out at Berkeley,” she says. “It feels very fulfilling to support fellow students in the decisions they make regarding data science, whether it is related to course selection, domain emphases, or even choosing data science as a major.” Many students ask about what a certain class is like, and Jenna is able to draw from her own and her friends’ experiences to provide them with greater insight into the course. 

Ananya Pattnaik

Ananya Pattnaik, a third-year data science major with an emphasis in Applied Mathematics and Modeling, loves talking to students and helping them navigate their journey at Cal. 

“I always had questions while navigating my way through the major, and now that I have been around for almost three years, I feel that I know enough to be able to help others answer their questions,” she says. “I've had such a great experience being part of the data science major, and I want others to have the same!”

Michelle - Peer Advisor Bio Photo

Michelle Lou

Similarly, Michelle Lou, whose domain emphasis is Inequalities in Society, felt that she learned a great deal about data science in her three years at Cal and wanted to share her experiences with others. 

“My favorite part about being a peer advisor is being able to encourage students to pursue data science and help them decide which classes are best for them,” she says. “My first experience with data science was actually when I took Data 8, so I love being able to talk to other students who are interested in data science, but don’t have much experience.”

April 23, 2021

Learn more about the students behind the Data Peer Advising program here.

Future Plans

Currently, the Peer Advisors team is looking forward to returning to campus in some form and would like to collaborate with other Peer Advising groups on campus. If you’d like to seek support and input from a Data Peer Advisor, please don’t hesitate to send an email to ds-peer-advising@berkeley.edu(link sends e-mail).