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CIERA welcomes DSFP back to Northwestern

Six years after the inaugural meeting, Northwestern hosted the LSSTC Data Science Fellowship Program for the third time the week of September 20th. With a new generation of ground and space-based surveys generating petabytes of data per year, together with the increasing complexity of data coming from these instruments, astrophysics is becoming ever more dependent on developments in computing and analysis. There is, however, a disconnect between the skills that are needed for an era rich in data and those that we teach to incoming graduate students and early-career postdocs. The DSFP was created to bridge this gap and provide a supplemental educational program to prepare early-career scientists for data-rich astronomy.

The LSSTC Data Science Fellowship Program is a two year training program, designed to teach the skills required to analyze data from the Vera C. Rubin Observatory and it’s Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) that are not easily addressed by current astrophysics graduate programs. The program consists of three one-week schools per year over two years, in supplement to graduate education, intended to teach students in astronomy-related fields (e.g. astrophysics, cosmology, planetary science, etc.) essential skills for dealing with big data. Each year, 15-20 students join the program, with 110 students having partaken in total.

Session 16 of the Data Science Fellowship Program welcomed the sixth cohort of graduate students to the program. The new cohort reflects the interdisciplinary and international character of the DSFP, with the 20 new fellows representing almost every field of astronomy and coming to us from institutions on four continents.

Joining the previous cohort in their visit to CIERA, the 20 participants in session 16 were introduced to Probability, Classical Statistics, Bayesian Inference, Sampling, and extensions to Probabilistic Graphs, Hierarchical Modeling, Experimental Design, and Comparison Metrics. An introduction to Likelihood-Free inference rounded out the instructional part of the week.

Reflecting the interdisciplinary backgrounds of both students and instructors, hands on problems included replicating the measurement of mass-radius relationships for small exoplanets (just 11 days after the result appeared in Science), design of experimental metrics for assessing the performance of photometric redshift estimators with the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, inferring distances from GAIA parallax measurements, and measuring stellar radial velocities from high resolution Echelle spectroscopy.

Session 16 concluded with a hack session where fellows completed individual short research projects on a large number of scientific and applied problems – the only requirement was to employ the techniques learned during the week.

“I’m excited about the impact that the DSFP has on the fellows and their science. Every DSFP fellow has exciting ideas that are pushing the frontiers of their fields in astronomy. We don’t define their science goals, but support and enable the fellows’ cutting-edge science. The DSFP facilitates this by teaching technical skills while also providing professional development and new collaborations. Beyond that, we’re excited and thinking a lot about the data and challenges that early observations from the Vera C. Rubin Observatory will pose. The DSFP helps prepare the community prior to first light, but the nature of scientific discovery means that we’ll have to continue to think about what the community needs and how the DSFP can help in the years to come.” –Bryan Scott


Program Leadership:

Adam Miller (CIERA/Northwestern) – Director

Lucianne Walkowicz – Founder, Deputy Director

Bryan Scott (CIERA) – DSFP Postdoctoral Fellow

Vicky Kalogera (CIERA/Northwestern) – Founding Member, Advising Director

Andrew Connolly (University of Washington); Chris Lintott (University of Oxford); Zeljko Ivezic (University of Washington); Phil Marshall (SLAC/Stanford); Mario Juric (University of Washington); Robert Lupton (Princeton) – Advisory Board


The LSSTC DSFP is made possible by the generous support of the National Science Foundation, CIERA/Northwestern, the Brinson Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the LSST Corporation.


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Written by Bryan Scott & Alexandra Lenox