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Creating New Knowledge through Data-Intensive Research and Education

Tufts seeks to develop a university-wide, interdisciplinary center dedicated to data-intensive research and pedagogy, studying the science of data and its use in application domains that span the breadth of the university. Such a center will build on existing strengths at Tufts and provide a structure to help realize the promise of the Tufts T10 Strategic Plan.  

DISC will create a collaborative, application-driven environment that simultaneously fosters the development of new methods for extracting meaning from data and the application of those methods to a host of domain areas relevant to Tufts.  DISC will provide a university-wide forum for identifying strategic opportunities best addressed by combining expertise in the science of data and application domains.

The Center represents a vital intellectual center empowering research and teaching; a centralized forum for data science that will spur innovations and insights in all areas of academic endeavor in ways not currently possible with. The Center will be:

  • A vibrant intellectual center that will empower both research and teaching
  • A centralized forum that will spur data-intensive innovation across the university
  • A catalyst for new degree/certificate programs that will address the national need for data scientists
  • A hub for programs that bring the benefits of data-intensive tools and techniques to the arts and humanities as well as to traditional STEM fields
  • A proactive and cross-campus organization that will leverage the distinctive Tufts culture of interdisciplinary collaboration in the service of humanity

Why Now?

In recent years, our collective ability to gather, store, and analyze data has increased dramatically, allowing new, data-intensive approaches to understanding humanity and the world around us in areas that range from genetics to social policy to classics. By investing in our capacity to derive meaning from data, Tufts will be well positioned to produce intellectual breakthroughs and data-literate graduates.  This capability will make Tufts a key player in what is the most important transformation of the academic enterprise in our time.

The demand for analytical talent. By the start of 2016, there were 2.3 million US job postings asking for data science and analytics skills.  By late 2016, more than half (58%) of business roundtable members, an association of CEOs of leading American companies, said data science and analytics are very relevant to job openings today.” However, few in the emerging workforce have the skills needed for these jobs. Universities are not keeping up with the demand. According to the Pew Research Center, “These jobs are in the economy’s fastest job-growth areas. They are higher-paying jobs, but that also require higher levels of preparation and above-average levels of social skills, analytical skills, and often both.”

Why Tufts?

DISC capitalizes on Tufts’ distinctive position in the institutional landscape as a research-intensive university with a strong commitment to the liberal arts.  DISC will support data-driven study in both the sciences and the liberal arts with a focus on topics that will contribute to the betterment of humanity.   

DISC will serve as a Tufts-wide focal point, fostering collaborations between people from existing departments, schools, and campuses who share an interest in data-intensive research and pedagogy. It will serve as a nexus to connect experts in the science of data with scholars from a wide variety of disciplines who want to use data-intensive techniques to advance their fields. It will enable cutting-edge research and state-of-the-art training so Tufts graduates will be well positioned to fill leadership roles in this increasingly important multi-disciplinary area. As a center, DISC will host various activities to nurture Tufts’ growing data science community, including forums, mini-symposia, and seminars.

DISC will foster a vibrant and sustainable culture of data literacy across the university, building on existing strengths
in the science of data and data-intensive scholarship in areas such as computational biology, cybersecurity, the digital humanities, environmental studies,  and health informatics.

Research Advances

By bringing together experts in the science of data and diverse application areas, DISC will enable research breakthroughs in both the fundamentals of data science and in application areas.   These breakthroughs are likely to come in areas as diverse as personalized medicine, open digital health platforms, cyber security, climate change, economic forecasting, and the digital humanities.

Educational Opportunities

DISC will help faculty, staff, and students across all campuses identify pedagogical needs and develop appropriate degree programs, courses, and training modules to unlock the full potential of data-intensive studies. Possible new academic offerings would include:

  • Undergraduate data science degree programs in Arts and Science and in Engineering
  • Master’s, certificate, and continuing education programs in topics such as Health Informatics
  • Bioinformatics courses at Tufts University School of Medicine, the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, CTSI, the School of Arts and Science, and the School of Engineering

Initiatives with Partnership Potential

  • The Perseus Digital Library Project, the Perseids project, and the Bodin Project from the School of Arts and Science
  • The Cyber Security and Policy program emerging in the School of Engineering and the Fletcher School
  • The Computational Biology Initiative and Health Informatics from the Cummings School, the Tufts Medical School, the Friedman School, the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Tufts Genomics, the Tufts Clinical and Translational Science Institute, and the School of Arts and Science to support data analytics approaches in biomedical research and education

Funding Opportunities

  • DISC will provide an organizational structure that will allow faculty to secure external funding for large-scale, data-intensive, interdisciplinary projects.
  • Degree programs hosted in the center will help raise revenue to support center operations.
  • DISC will inspire alumni and other potential donors who want to support data-intensive studies at Tufts.

The initiative began with the Thematic Area Work Group, a team of faculty and staff at the University that produced a report in 2015, providing the initial vision and rational for establishing a university-wide center to create a vibrant community of scholars, researchers, and students so that Tufts University can become a key player in what will likely be the most transformative academic endeavor to take place in our lifetimes.

In 2016, Provost Harris convened a Planning Group tasked to develop a blueprint for a center that will build on existing strengths at Tufts and provide a structure to help realize the promise of the Tufts T10 Strategic Plan.  

Implementation Timeline

DISC Timeline