Training future Data Scientists - Part 2: Preplanning

Reach for the stars so if you fall you land on a cloud - Kanye West, Homecoming

Before the students step on to the CSIR campus, a lot of preparation happens. How much preparation? A lot! Let’s talk about preplanning. We are going to break it down into program design, finding partners & problems, and recruiting students.

Program Design and Preplanning

So how many people does it take to run a program with 50 students showing up every season? A lot. We have 4 core program leads at the moment. Nyalleng Moorosi, Dr. Quentin Williams, Dhiren Seetharam and myself. We work together on the design of the program, coordination and organisation of all  other parts. The program design is always a work in progress. Our goal is to be able to reach the goal of the program of providing a rigorous  training program that delivers value for our partners. As such we have set expectations on”

  • what happens on both parts of the season,
  • what a day should typically be like,
  • what happens during a typical week,
  • when deliverables are due,
  • What is a deliverable?
  • When we start
  • What workshops will be available
  • Evaluation
  • Ambitions to get better.
  • Which other non-curricular enhancements do we add to the the schedule?

Thus in this pre planning phase, we discuss the philosophies we all might have and what changes we might introduce in the new season. This is a collaboration that stretches all of us and pushes us to think of the impact our own decision make on the program. Our ambitions on each season have to be high, and we are coignascant that this also means more pressure on the rest of the participants. To reach our goals, we work with other CSIR staff for recruitment, CSIR researchers for project leads, mentors who oversee a single project etc.

Projects and Project Partners

Let’s talk about the projects. How do we decide on them? In the early days of my involvement we typically thought of challenges that aligned with some of our research work or partners who were at easy reach. Now we typically go through a process that allows potential partners to submit ideas, get them evaluated and then move on a path to test for feasibility of both the challenge, the data and the partners involvement. If you are interested in submitting a project, visit our Get Involved page.

Tiyani Nghonyama from Geekulcha with student team
Tiyani Nghonyama from Geekulcha with student team

Student Recruitment

I am very thankful to our HR staff that helps us go through the recruitment phases. The recruitment of DSIDE is stretching the way we work. We have had a steady growth of applicants over the years, with 2017 being the largest year so far. For recruitment, we solicit applications through CVs, shortlist and then interview. The interviews are either physical or over remote connection. The interviews have a focus on computational thinking but are tailored to the background of the applicant as much as possible. There is still some work to improve the process to a multi round interview process. A big part of our approach to interviewing and recruitment is looking for the potential for growth and development. As such we work to recruit as diverse candidates as we can, from different levels and different universities. We also look to mix the representation of universities on each team. We have found this to have many positive effects for the team members with common feedback from students being that they get to learn a lot about different universities and different backgrounds.

DSIDE 2017 universities
DSIDE 2017 universities

This is second in a series of blog posts covering the 2017/2018 DSIDE program. In the next few blog posts I'll cover what happens in preplanning, what has changed over the years and where we might go. Thanks to Nyalleng Moorosi for contributing to this post.

More from the series

  1. What's in a DSIDE season?
  2. Preplanning
  3. Breaking down the process.
  4. Growth - it's a process

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