Frequently Asked Questions

/Frequently Asked Questions
Fellow Application

Deadline: Feb 1, 2016

Technical Mentor Application

Deadline: Feb 1, 2016

Project Manager Application

Deadline: Feb 1, 2016

Project Partner Application

Deadline: Jan 20, 2016

The Fellowship is a project-based training program designed to produce data scientists with strong skills in solving real-world problems and an understanding, excitement, and passion for solving problems with social impact. We have three goals (prioritized in that order):

  1. Training Fellows: We want to help create the next generation of data scientists who have the data science skills to solve real-world problems and are passionate about focusing their efforts on solving social challenges.
  2. Exposing and training governments and non profits to better use data to make better decisions.
  3. Community: Seeding a community of people and organizations working together to make an impact.

Collaborative, Creative, and Inclusive. We know we don’t know everything and want everyone involved to shape the Fellowship. We’re open to ideas, criticism, and help. Yes, we are data-driven but more than that, we’re problem-driven. We care about impact and how our work is used to improve society.

Most of the summer, Fellows work with their team on their project. We augment that with lectures, hands-on workshops, seminars (from local and visiting guests), happy hours (with the local tech, data science, non-profit, and government communities), meet-ups, field trips, and other social activities (sailing trips, tours, concerts, etc.). Some of these are planned in advance, others are co-created and led by the Fellows and mentors as they learn about what they would like to do over the summer.

We try to balance getting things done with learning and training. We believe that the best way to learn is by doing, and the fellows who join us want to make an impact by solving the problem they’re tackling.

We typically start at the end of May and continue until the end of August. In 2016, we started May 31 and finished August 26th. We had an alternate (later) start date, June 10, only for students coming from quarter system schools. The end date for them was September 2.

Downtown Chicago. This allows Fellows to experience the summer in the city as well as interact with Government, Non-Profit, Tech, and Data communities in Chicago.

We’d rather you give us a few project ideas than one detailed, specific, project proposal. We can then work with you to better understand the potential projects to select the one that best fits the fellowship.

Applications for the 2017 program will likely be available by December. To apply, you will have to fill out the application form and provide two letters of recommendation.

We want a mix of people who make up an ideal community for the summer Fellowship. There is no single profile for a fellow. Successful Fellows have different skill profiles and backgrounds. Everyone has some programming, statistics and data analysis skills in addition to a passion for making social impact. Some are stronger at Computer Science and Machine Learning. Others have a strong Applied Math or Statistics background. Some come from a quantitative Social Science, Economics, or Public Policy background. Others have Physics or Chemistry or Geography or Linguistics degrees. We’re not expecting you to be awesome at everything. Tell us what you’re good at and what you’d like to learn. In addition, personality and communication skills matter! If you’re passionate about a cause or social issue, tell us about it in your application. If there’s a recent project you’ve done that you’re proud of, we’d like to hear about it.

Although we’d love to have people at all levels involved, we prefer you to be a graduate student or at least a senior in college to get the most out of this program. This is because we have learned throughout the years of the Fellowship that Fellows with prior skills are able to both get the most out of their experience, as well as contribute the most. That said, if you feel like you may not fit the typical criteria of a Fellow, but have both the computational skills and passion to excel, we’d still love to see your application.

No, not at all! We love CS geeks but in order to solve high impact problems, we seek a mix of skills. We want people from all kinds of backgrounds including sociology, economics, public policy, public health, geography, physics, and chemistry. However, we do want you to have experience with data analysis and a passion for making social impact. That means that applicants should have had some prior experience using a programming language to analyze data (e.g., Python, R).

Yes. And yes.

Not necessarily but this is designed for current student or recent graduates. If you have finished a degree (undergrad, Masters, PhD) in the past couple of years, you should be ok to apply. We’ve had post-docs, as well as people in industry (recent graduates), and people in between undergrad and gradschool come as fellows in previous years.

No, you don’t have to be a US citizen to apply. We have sponsored J-1 visas (for those outside the US)  in the past as well as had F-1 students already in the US use CPT to be part of the fellowship.

We can’t provide funds for visa applications but can definitely send a supporting letter if required.

Yes, the fellowship is paid. The stipend ranges from $11,000 to $16,000 and depends on your level of education. This includes the housing stipend which is around $1000/month (and is more than enough for Chicago).

We have arranged for housing in downtown Chicago. Fellows have the option to stay there or take the housing stipend and find their own housing. Most Fellows choose to take the official housing in downtown but it is a bit like a dorm so Fellows with families prefer alternatives.

Partially. We spend the months leading up the Fellowship designing projects with project partners. Once the Fellows are selected, we will send you a list of these projects and ask you to give us your preferences. We’ll then use these preferences and the needs of the projects to create project teams.

You can see past projects from last year here. Projects will be in partnership with government and non profit organizations and will be in areas of education, healthcare, energy, community development, disaster relief, and public safety.

A lot of the project teams end up writing papers but that’s not the goal of the summer fellowship. We encourage people to do good work with real impact and the paper is often a by-product of that good work

An ideal mentor has a strong technical background, typically PhD (in Data Science, Computer Science, Statistics, Social Science, or Public Policy) and several years of  industry experience. We want mentors to have real-world problem solving experience as well as experience in leading teams and working with students and industry partners. Basically, we’re looking for experienced, smart, and passionate unicorns who want to make a social impact working with Fellows and our project partners over the summer.

In the last two years, we’ve had a mix of successful mentors from Industry and Academia (with practical, real-world experience) with PhDs in Computer Science, Machine Learning, Statistics, Social Science, Economics, and Physics.

Our priority is to have full-time mentors. These are paid, full-time positions. We welcome part-time volunteer mentors as well but need strong, full-time mentors for the Fellowship to be successful.

Yes, full-time mentors are paid positions. Part-time mentors are volunteer positions and not paid.

Mentors are a critical component of the Fellowship. Each mentor leads (typically two) teams of Fellows and serves as a project lead, technical advisor, and manages our relationship with the project partner. Mentors also help us design the activities over the summer and are an integral part of the organizing team.

Project Partners are typically, but not always, non-profits and government organizations (city, state, or federal – US or international). We also work with corporations and startups with a social mission.

Project Partners come with some idea of a problem they want help in tackling, data they can provide to solve that problem, and resources they can devote to collaborate with us over the summer. Ideal partners:

1. Have an important problem with high social impact: We want concrete problems that can have impact as opposed to vague research questions
2. Can give us access to data they’ve collected that is useful in solving that problem: It’s less about the size of the data, more about having the right data to solve the problem. We don’t release the data publicly and comply with any security and privacy procedures necessary but we need to be able to access the data remotely from Chicago.
3. Provide expertise about the problem area to the team of Fellows: We are not experts in all “social good” areas and expect partners (who are the experts) to help us understand the data and the problem.
4. Are likely to implement and use the work we produce over the summer: We want our work to be used and having committed partners is critical for that to happen.

We want to make an impact and want to work with partners who can best use our skills and resources to make that happen.

More questions? See our post on what makes a good DSSG project.

All of them. In the past 2 years, we’ve worked in various areas such as education, public health, medicine, sustainability, public safety, economic development, international aid, homelessness prevention, and public accountability.

We like concrete problems but can help you define and scope the project. We’re okay with starting with an interest in working with us and will spend time with you before the Fellowship starts to refine projects and discuss data needs. You can also propose several project ideas and we can help narrowing them down to the one we think will best fit within the Fellowship.

Not at all. We’ve worked with partners all over the world. In-person collaboration is great but so is Skype and/or Hangout.

See our recent parners here.

You get to work with a team of 3-4 smart, passionate Data Science Fellows led by an experienced mentor for 12 weeks to solve the problem we identify together.