Discovery Exchange: Virtual Data Science Collaboration at Berkeley

July 7, 2020

COVID-19 has impeded many opportunities and has resulted in students feeling isolated and uninspired. To help students interested in data science stay motivated and connected through this difficult time, the UC Berkeley Division of Computing, Data Science, and Society (CDSS) piloted the Discovery Exchange,   a free online hub (running from June 1 through August 14) that offers mentorship, workshops, and community to any Berkeley student interested in pursuing a data science research project this summer. 

Discovery Exchange provides a unique opportunity for students to team up and apply what they've learned in the classroom to real-world data-driven projects,” says Arlo Malmberg, Program Manager of Discovery Exchange. “We're hoping we can spark student-led projects that grow into long-term social impact ventures.” 

Despite the restrictions imposed by the current pandemic, the Discovery Exchange is able to engage and support students remotely through an online learning platform, connections to mentors and consultants, informative workshops, and more. 

Community and Collaboration

Discovery Exchange has a corresponding Piazza site that serves as a forum for discussion and teamwork. One thread on Piazza is dedicated to the search for teammates and allows students to easily find and form research groups; beyond the project description, students interested in joining a team can also see the size of the group, the names of the other team members, and the email address of the poster for easy contact. 

Students who don’t yet have a definitive research idea are encouraged to start their own thread on a topic they would like to work with (e.g., COVID-19) to find other interested people and create a project. For students looking for something beyond student-led projects, there is a thread dedicated to off-campus data science research; for those who feel energized by competition and cash prizes, there is a thread dedicated to contest opportunities. 

Support for Students

Discovery Exchange also supports students throughout their research process. The Exchange has office hours for project assistance or any program-related questions, and student teams may have the opportunity to be connected with a graduate mentor. Data Peer Consulting, Research IT, and D-Lab consulting services are also available to help students with their research

Additionally, the program hosts Zoom workshops, which aim to provide technical and project management advice on conducting data science research. The first workshops launched earlier this summer with “How To Do a Passion Project” detailing how to find inspiration for doing a project that you can be excited about. 

Ideas and Impact

The Discovery Exchange program plans to help its students take their projects to the next level. “Right now, we're working to partner with the Big Ideas innovation contest to give Discovery Exchange teams a platform to further develop and scale their projects,” Malmberg continues.

He also mentions exciting updates from their first group of students: “We have teams working on the most pressing problems of today--from a team developing a COVID-19 tracing app for the Berkeley campus to a team analyzing city police budgets throughout California. Every day we are inspired by what Berkeley undergraduates are doing with data, and Discovery Exchange is the hub for that community right now.”

A big thank you to everyone’s hard work on Discovery Exchange! It has become an excellent resource and source of community for any student seeking to keep engaged in data science this summer.