I’ve just returned from having dinner at Ye Olde Union Oyster House in South Boston. Only a day ago I was on board a bus making my way from Hanover, New Hampshire to my current home-away-from-home in Boston. I was invited to Hanover to speak to the students and faculty of the Department of Quantitative Biomedical Science (QBS) in the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College about interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary education.

Invited by Carly Bobak – a former MSc student in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Guelph, and currently a PhD student in the QBS program at Dartmouth – I made the trek to chat with students, staff, and faculty specifically about the ICON transdisciplinary classroom, and the experiences that the ICON teaching team have had over the last several years.

In case you are wondering why the folks in the Department of Quantitative Biomedical Science might be interested in such a talk, it’s probably necessary to mention that their PhD program (and upcoming MSc program) is an interdisciplinary Data Science program. The students and faculty involved include engineers, statisticians, epidemiologists, and more, and because of this they have a keen interest in delivering the best program they can. Based on what I observed, they’re already doing a phenomenal job. The students and faculty I met were all extremely excited about the work they were doing, and their excitement was incredibly infectious. It doesn’t hurt that they’re also a fantastic bunch of people.

While I was visiting Dartmouth, I had the opportunity to chat with several of the faculty during one-on-one meetings that Carly had organized for us. I have to say that it was incredibly refreshing to hear that they shared similar opinions on training Data Scientists as me. In particular, I’m of the mind that Data Science is more of a team sport, and not a one person can be an expert in all the things job that most job postings would suggest. In fact, I think the thing that makes an excellent Data Scientist is a strong set of “soft skills” – including (but not limited to) excellent teamwork, communication, knowledge translation and transfer, and knowledge mobilization skills. While I do believe that a Data Scientist requires strong coding and math/stats skills as well, it’s just as important that they can communicate effectively with people who aren’t in the Data Science domain; community partners, biologists, physicians, patients, etc. The fact that the QBS program brings together a diverse set of students under one umbrella, and creates a space that facilitates direct communication and knowledge sharing between the disciplines is fantastic. It’s a think tank in all the best kind of ways. I have no doubt that they are going to make a significant contribution to the domain of Data Science, as well as each of the various disciplines involved.

Thanks again to Carly and the rest of the students, staff, and faculty at Dartmouth for inviting me to speak, and for the incredible hospitality shown to me. I hope I’ll be able to return again soon, perhaps to help develop an ICON experience for students in the QBS program.


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