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Add BU CDS to your List!

September 13, 2021

Disclaimer: No one asked me to write this. This is *not* promotional from-BU material. This is 100% by me (with some thoughts by Mayank Varia) on why I think you should check out BU CDS for graduate school, including some of the reasons I chose to take a job here over traditional Computer Science and Operations Research departments.

Boston University recently initiated its Faculty of Computing and Data Sciences (CDS). It's essentially its own department, distinct from Computer Science, except it's higher level than a department—a department lives inside a college (of arts and sciences, or engineering), inside the university. The Faculty of CDS is just within the university directly, which removes bureaucratic barriers and makes interdisciplinary collaboration across fields easier. But, for ease of terminology, I'll call it a "department" to match the typical language.

Okay, so CDS is a new department at BU, distinct from CS, and the university is *all-in* behind it. I'm talking, building a new 17-story building on the Charles River for it, hiring approximately 3 tenure-track faculty per year, plus hiring "faculty fellows" to be jointly appointed from other departments at BU, pre- and post-docs, research faculty, and more!

Who's a part of CDS? Right now, we have three tenure-track faculty properly in CDS—myself, Krzysztof Onak (sublinear algorithms and years at IBM handling large data), and Mayank Varia (applied cryptography and civic tech), as well as many teaching faculty, practicum leaders, and staff who are amazing.* We also have affiliate faculty who were originally hired by other departments (e.g., Adam Smith and Ran Canetti in CS, Stacey Dogan in Law, etc.) but have affiliations in CDS. These are the people who help govern CDS, determining tenure requirements that make sense in such an interdisciplinary department where people from such different fields collaborate and publish together, and hiring people who are a good fit. They also teach classes on things like "Law for Algorithms" as well. Your choice of advisors range from folks in Computer Science to Sociology to Health Sciences to Media Studies... and that's the point. Folks in CDS have research that isn't really contained by any one department, and we like to work with one another to use whatever methodology is relevant to solve our research problems. This vision is being steered by our captain, Associate Provost Azer Bestavros (think: department chair)—and Azer was a huge part of building up the BU Computer Science department during his term as chair there, so his track record is proven. We also have the greatest administrative staff, so between being a "faculty" of Computing & Data Science and the staff, I'm convinced there's no bureaucracy.

*EDIT: We now have additional core tenure-track faculty members in CDS! These are: Brian Cleary (computational and experimental methods to study tissue and genes), Allison McDonald (the impact of technology on digital safety and marginalization), Ngozi Okidegbe (how predictive technologies in the criminal justice system impact racially marginalized communities), and Pawel Przytycki (computational methods for understanding the regulatory effects of noncoding variants in neurological development and diseases). Plus many more new fellows and affiliates here.

What does the PhD program look like? Well, it could theoretically be similar to one in CS, but what's different is that instead of being bogged down in requirements of areas that don't pertain to your research, you learn useful Computing & Data Science methodology in any range of topics that might be interesting to you—whether with a neuroscientist or a sociologist. Classes range from custom-made brand new for CDS (which those interested in teaching can TA and help design!) to cross-listed with practically every other department. And, you're also given two years to take classes and try out research with different faculty due to generous funding from the department before you need to settle down with an advisor. Essentially, the biggest benefit of CDS is its flexibility—to work with people from different domains, to take classes that create the best path for you, and get connected with practitioners and policy-makers.

By being a member of CDS, you're immediately connected to faculty across the university, beyond any single department. And, our building houses the computer science, math, and stats departments as well, so it's easy to work with these folks too. We have existing partnerships (and people entirely focused on fostering and maintaining these!) with industry, such as with Mass Mutual, Red Hat, and more, as well as with the government (like the BU Federal office) which often give way to interesting research problems and unique internship opportunities.

And, very importantly, we're in Boston. An incredible academic hub where we get to collaborate with colleagues from Northeastern, Harvard, MIT, Microsoft Research, Boston College, Tufts, as well as have the advantage of functional train infrastructure connecting us to more colleagues in the Northeast and down to DC.

What about funding? For those who do not know, PhD students in Computing and Data Sciences almost always (1) do not pay tuition and (2) are paid stipends for their research or teaching work within their PhD programs. You should not have to pay to do a PhD in this field. BU CDS follows this model. All CDS PhD students receive departmental funding for their first two years to have the freedom to take courses and rotate with advisors if they would like, and then they then are funded by their advisors. Additionally, it is possible to request an application fee waiver for those for whom the application costs are an undue burden, and this is typically true at most schools.

So, in conclusion, when you're deciding where to apply to grad school (or where to advise your students to apply, or where to apply for the job market), please add BU CDS to your list! We're not the same thing as BU CS (even though with us you get access to all their great faculty and resources as well), so you can apply there too if you like. :)

If you are looking for information about working with me, see here.

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