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How can an academic data science program most effectively partner with a company?

Partnerships between companies and academic data science programs are natural. Both share a common goal--to help students receive an excellent education in the field of data science. When this happens it reflects well on the institution and its instructors and it prepares a new wave of data scientists to do great work in whatever company they land.

There is no single template for a successful partnership. The strengths, needs and resources of each program and company are unique. Each partnership that evolves is a singular relationship. One thing we have observed is that successful connections between institutions tend to be brokered and sustained by individuals. Fostering individual connections between faculty and industry data scientists is an effective way to promote partnering.

One of the most beneficial partnership modes for both academic programs and industry partners has proven to be capstone mentoring.

Mentoring capstone projects

Capstone projects are typically undertaken by students, individually or in groups, in their final semester of a program. They simulate industry projects students will experience in scope, form, and complexity. They also provide a great way for employers to get to know a handful of students before the question of employment arises, and vice versa.

In a prototypical capstone engagement, a mentor might provide the following:

  • A data science question / project idea
  • Some realistic data
  • An in-person kickoff meeting to explain what the problem is and why the answer matters
  • A monthly video-conference checkin
  • Attending a wrap-up presentation at the end of the project

This model can be modified to either be more or less intensive. A more involved mentor might meet with their team weekly. In a lighter engagement, a mentor might provide a question, but no data, and attend only the final presentations. The details of each mentoring experience are entirely up to the program and the mentor to negotiate, but there are many variations that have proven successful.

To get you started, here are a set of use cases that crop up in industry.

Other partnership modes

Here are some other examples of how industry and academic programs have worked together in the past.

  • Tech talks
  • Workshops
  • Hackathons
  • Company visits
  • Research grants
  • Sponsoring student organizations
  • Research collaborations and joint publication
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