Research Spotlight: Staff Collective for Data Science Members Contributing to Data-Informed Decision Making

Research Spotlight: Staff Collective for Data Science Members Contributing to Data-Informed Decision Making

When Diane Banks, the Executive Director of Advancing Macomb, reached out to the Michigan Institute for Data Science (MIDAS), she had a clear goal in mind: understand the work of the non-profit organizations in Macomb County, help them seek resources, and make them more successful. But this is a challenging task. Her organization had a large amount of data on hand but she was unsure how to get the insight that they needed from the data. They needed help. 

It turned out that there was a group on campus that was in the perfect position to help. A few members of the Staff Collective for Data Science (SCDS) volunteered their technical expertise and their deep understanding of how organizations function. Jon Reader, Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center, Manish Verma, CSCAR, and Mengying Zhang, Institute for Social Research, started from Diane’s data and generated a detailed map of all the non-profits in Macomb country along with information about the service each non-profit provides. Advancing Macomb can now build more information into this database and better determine which non-profit organizations needed more resources to be successful. 

“This project signifies the impact that staff researchers can have outside our daily work.” says Jon.  SCDS started as a small group but has rapidly grown to over 150 members. This is a unique group on campus, focused purely on staff researchers who are involved in or building skills for data-intensive research. 

Data science is a broad spanning discipline and its methodologies are finding use in many other research domains. An increasing number of U-M units and research groups are hiring staff data scientists, and many staff researchers are building data science skills. However, the number of such staff researchers is still small and they are sometimes the only staff data science researcher in their lab or even the entire department. “The focus of SCDS is to connect staff data scientists – current ones and aspiring ones, help their career growth and help them make a bigger impact on research.” says Jing Liu, the Managing Director of MIDAS and the founder of SCDS, “We are a member-driven group, the members decide the direction of the group and what activities we organize together.”

SCDS organizes career panels and networking events, but more recently members have started collaborating on research projects that they initiated. Jule Krüger,Center for Political Studies, recently initiated a new project and is leading a group of SCDS members to analyze U-M salary data to identify disparities. Because of the breadth of data science work being done across campus, members of SCDS bring together a wealth of interdisciplinary knowledge. An aspiration of the group is to leverage such collective expertise to strengthen data science research on campus.

SCDS is always looking for new projects that they can assist with and are welcoming new members. To learn more about the Collective, and sign up as a member or a coordinator, visit their website here.

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