Let me introduce Data Science Association Pattern (hereafter “ Pattern”), the most recent among all the study associations. Nowadays countless businesses claim to practice data science while taking up the ultimate challenge to attract the brightest data scientists from the field. The former is often a farce and the latter is a unicorn possessing both technical and socio-cultural skills. While most engineering studies offer ample opportunity to bring your technical skills to the next level, a central place where data science students can meet, organize activities and enjoy educational support was missing until recently. And this is where Pattern comes in. On a Monday evening Agis and I got a chance to have an insight into how the fundamentals of this study association were built, orchestrated by three highly motivated data science students: Nadine Hol (chairman), Daan Dinkla (treasurer) and Eva Locusteanu (secretary). How did it start, how does it look like now and how did it influence the board-members themselves?
The secret of getting ahead is getting started
— Mark Twain
It’s September 2016 about 23 degrees Celsius, a warm day for the time of year. Three students make their way to the university to start their education within a field with one of the brightest futures ahead of all, only to find themselves some months later deciding to fill the first official board of the Data Science Association Pattern.
The joint bachelor program Data Science came into existence during the academic year 2016–2017 and thus represents two study years of students currently. As a student in such an innovative field you are a guinea pig; the university noticeably experiments with the curriculum and you — as friendly rodent — are doing your utmost to learn all the complex paths and problem-solving strategies, at which you become surprisingly skilled over time. Essential for this relationship is a study association: a central point of communication between data science students and the university.
“A few data science students were part of other existing study associations, but often did not feel at home.”
Opposed to boards of established study associations; Nadine, Eva and Daan spend most of their time laying the foundation for the study association. Besides familiarizing themselves with their own roles, many brainstorm sessions have been spent together with other bachelor Data Science students philosophizing what Pattern should stand for, what to prioritize and how to achieve it. This resulted in three focal points: academia, social cohesion and business (more about this later on). Also, constructing all the required documentation a student association is obligated to have such as articles of association and of course several devoted committees followed. In many ways this is similar to setting up your own business: you spend time thinking about what image you like to forge, building a network, constructing regulations to structure management and how to acquire and distribute your financial resources. In fact, being an entrepreneur within your study was an important reason for becoming a board-member for Daan, Nadine and Eva.
People told Nadine, Daan and Eva: “Establishing a solid study association will cost you 4–5 years for sure”. However, in May 2017, about half a year, countless meetings and a lot of hard work later, Pattern became an official, fully qualified, study association. Sometimes people expect that as a board you can simply make a decision and it will happen whereas in truth that is not the case with the amount of actors involved. The achievement was a team-effort: the Pattern board and its’ students, and university and its’ study counselor of the Data Science program all took part. Eva: “We try to equalize the field as much as possible”; that is, bring students, the university and business to the same level being coordinated by the study association. To make things even more complicated the Data Science students are distributed between the two universities and the newly established data science campus, Eindhoven— Tilburg — ’s-Hertogenbosch respectively, and are ranging from 18 to 30 year old with different schedules.
“We accomplished setting up a community as a whole”
Academia, social cohesion and business are the three pillars that Pattern distinguishes. As the voice of the students, involvement in the study program is imperative: “we are the go-to-point for all data science students” chairman Nadine explains. Via mid-course evaluation together with two course responsible students and the lecturer, the program is constantly being monitored and improved for both students and educational staff. Another main goal was actively involving international students; after all they constitute a large part of our students. “Eva — originally from Romania — is part of our board which undoubtedly helped a lot” Nadine reflects. Now many of them are present during business cases, lunch lectures and drinks. Daan: “People who start this new bachelor have an entrepreneurial mindset”, it appears that everyone fits very well together and putting together the different committees responsible for a wide range of activities was not that difficult at all. Over the course of their board year they managed to involve both first and seconds year data science students in social and career related activities. Nadine: “You feel proud that you managed to achieve that in a year, all those cool events”. Their first Cantus, February 6th, was a great success as well as the Xomnia Datathon they participated in last year. A product of collaboration with Data Science companies is the Building Blocks Business Café gaining knowledge on recommender systems and simultaneously expanding your network.
A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new
— Albert Einstein
Success does not mean no mistakes. Key is to determine the importance and time-horizon it implies. At the start of their board-year they, for example, struggled with replying in a timely manner. E-mails often remained unanswered for more than a week, and caused loads of stress. As a side note, I can now openly admit that if you contact Pattern by email, you actually get a timely reply from them.
Daan elaborates on internal decision-making: “In my role as treasurer I regulary have to make large financial decisions, for example, whether to invest money in an event. Even as a data science study association your financial resources are limited and you thus have to decide whether to organize an activity or not. In the end you have various committees embodying many of these decisions. Every board member is responsible for several committees, seeing to it that problems are resolved and important news is shared during general board meetings.”
“The first two weeks we actually screwed up some things; but in the end, what did we really do wrong?”
Nadine, Eva and Daan feel part of a success-story and are all in favor of combining study with a (part-time) board year. It entails getting involved in the Data Science industry and study to a much greater extent. Aside from educational engagement, companies come to you and knock on your door, not the other way around. Nadine: “I actually even got my job through a sponsor meeting with a potential sponsor (Pipple)”.
“Companies come to us and knock on our door, not the other way around”
Concluding with a last bit of advice from the current board: when you’re in doubt to become involved in the study association don’t and just do it. Better to not take yourself too seriously; participate in social events, have a good time while you figure out where your heart lies within the exciting world of Data Science along the line.
Do you like this article? Then, read on with the Masters’ committee article!
Founding a study association is a great adventure, so if you also have a great idea that Pattern should definitely incorporate, let them know below! You rather grab the steering-wheel yourself, Pattern is looking for new board-members for the academic year 2018/2019. Application deadline is April 15th, send your motivation and CV to apply. Do not hesitate to email them or to contact them through Facebook!
- April 25th, Meet & Greet Networking event
(including Heineken, Transavia, DNB, CZ and Shell)
- May 3 -4, NEWCRAFT Data Challenge