Farewell and Thanks to BIDS

October 13, 2017

As today marks my last day in the role of Executive Director for the Berkeley Institute for Data Science (BIDS), I’d like to take the opportunity to reflect on BIDS’ journey so far and to offer my thanks to the countless people who have worked so hard, and who continue to advance a data science approach to research. It has been an honor and a privilege to work with such an incredible community, and to help establish BIDS as an active, thriving - and growing! - research organization here on the UC Berkeley campus. 

For background, BIDS was officially launched on December 12, 2013, with tremendous fanfare, hope, and high expectations that the new effort could help to usher forward the already burgeoning approach to research that takes advantage of the vast and rapidly growing pool of new data, resources, tools, and techniques available to answer some of the most challenging questions in all fields. While there is still much work to be done, and many new areas that I know that BIDS will continue to lead in the future, I believe that we have much to celebrate.

What I am most proud of, and what I will miss the most about BIDS, is the incredible community that we have all worked hard to foster.  When we moved into our wonderful space in 190 Doe Library (very generously provided by the University Library), it was not at all clear whether researchers from the many well established and highly regarded departments across the university would care to take the time from their busy schedules to visit BIDS and to work with and learn from researchers from completely different fields from their own, but who share common interests in the methods and tools that they employ.  

When we last counted, the numbers were reassuring that our efforts were working as we saw well over 1,700 unique individuals participating in BIDS activities on an annual basis from over 100 distinct departments and research units across campus. We now truly have an intellectually fertile environment where you are just as likely to find sociologists and environmental scientists as you are computer scientists and statisticians, all working towards a variety of common goals.  It is a place where everyone makes every effort to move beyond their field’s jargon and preconceptions in order to share their knowledge more broadly and to learn from their peers.

BIDS success is the result of our core group of researchers, staff, and partners who spend time at the institute, host and run our many events and activities, and provide the intellectual backbone of our initiatives. Today, BIDS includes 13 Full-time staff in tool development, research, and administration; 30 Data Science Fellows who share an appointment between the Institute and different departments across campus; and 51 Senior Fellows that include faculty and senior researchs from throughout Berkeley and LBNL. These tireless and creative individuals work to make sure that there is always something interesting happening to advance our research, both in the workspace and online.

To call out just a few noteworthy accomplishments, our community has:

  • Provided a welcome home and support for important open source software efforts that are relied upon by researchers all across the world. These efforts include (but are not limited to):
  • Co-edited a fantastic, and open access, book on The Practice of Reproducible Research.
  • Developed the viridis color map, now the default in matplotlib, and used the world over  including in the publication announcing the first observation of gravitational waves that recently led to the Nobel Prize in Physics. This discovery was also published with a fully executable Jupyter notebook.
  • Developed a cross domain working (XD) model that currently supports advancements in:
    • ImageXD: Image Processing Across Domains
    • TextXD: Text Analysis Across Domains
    • GraphXD - Graphs Across Domains
  • Hosted over 250 stimulating lectures, workshops, hackathons, conferences and events. Most are currently available via the BIDS youtube channel.

It goes without saying that none of this would even be possible if it weren’t for the exceptionally thoughtful work - that began well before BIDS came to be - from a wide range of contributors that all shared a strong desire to see this new paradigm thrive. A passionate team of talented and driven researchers, administrators, foundation and partner universities worked together to dream up the ideas that were critical to envisioning a new program. Along with BIDS Faculty Director, Saul Perlmutter, twelve Co-PI’s from a variety domain and methodology fields helped to develop the initial blueprint of what would become BIDS. A generous grant, and thoughtful leadership, from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Data Science Environments program provided the resources to make these ideas a reality.  Additional industry partnerships with Siemens and State Street allowed us to think beyond the scope of any single opportunity and have enabled us to continually reshape what we can accomplish through our work together.  

Our foundation and industry partners, along with our colleagues at the NYU Center for Data Science and UW eScience Institute have, and continue to, work hand-in-hand to provide a collaborative environment where ideas are shared in ways that have far exceeded expectations. It has been very rewarding to be able to learn from and contribute to this wide community of like-minded individuals.

It is exciting to see that Berkeley’s thriving data science community is only gaining strength with the development of a Division of Data Sciences and the Data Science Education Program, along with growing efforts from the University Library, Research IT and the dozens of unique institutions and departments supporting researchers across Berkeley’s campus.  I am confident that these activities will continue to thrive at this great University and that BIDS will continue to play a key role in helping to facilitate the developing new methods, tools, and techniques that benefit researchs from all fields.  

My heartfelt thanks go out to all who have made these last nine years at Berkeley an experience I will always treasure.  I look forward to seeing what the future will bring!