The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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From the Director's Desk (Fall 2020)

When I last wrote to you in July, it was the middle of the quietest summer in memory due to the ongoing impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s now over seven months since the campus shut down and CDS staff started working full time from home. In that time we’ve been resilient, adapted, and found new ways to continue our mission of data science research, education, and community service.


On the research front, highlights of the past quarter include Professor Erik Learned-Miller’s well attended online Q&A session on regulating facial recognition technologies, Assistant Professor Dan Sheldon and colleagues’ new grant to improve pandemic forecasting, Professor James Allan’s Amazon Research Award on enhancing conversational e-commerce search, and new research on heat resilience in the age of climate change, wifi-based contact tracing, and the use of mobile health technologies to monitor COVID-19 patients at home. You can find all the latest Center and College news here


During the summer, our Data Science for the Common Good (DS4CG) program went forward with nine graduate student fellows and four projects addressing environmental conservation, misinformation in social media, veterans’ health, and image understanding of photographs taken in the ancient city of Pompeii. The students were assisted by volunteer professional data scientists drawn from the Center’s portfolio of industry affiliates. This vital community service program depends on corporate sponsorship to fund its work. Please consider becoming a DS4CG supporter -- write to us at to learn how.


In another response to the pandemic, UMass Amherst moved the start of our Fall 2020 semester up by two weeks, to August 24. (The start of the Spring 2021 semester has been delayed to February 1.) With most instruction and programs continuing in fully online mode, the Center shifted its industry recruiting events online in close partnership with CICS’s outstanding Career Development office. We organized a GRAD+CDS mixer enabling our industry affiliates to connect with graduate students training to become data scientists, and most recently held our first-ever virtual poster session. Both events were well received by all who participated. We continue looking for ways to help satisfy the seemingly insatiable market demand for data scientists trained with the latest tools and techniques.


Looking ahead, we’ve begun reaching out to our industry partners seeking project proposals for our Spring 2021 Industry Mentorship program. This year I’ll be teaching the course supported by Tom Bernardin, the Center’s first staff data scientist, whom we hired to help us connect companies to faculty and student data science research expertise. Feel free to write to Tom at if you’d like to meet to discuss a current research challenge.


That’s all for now. Our next newsletter will be out in February. With a major election right around the corner, by then we should know how well all the models performed. Until then, best wishes to all to stay healthy, safe and productive.