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Culture and Code of Conduct

Our Code of Conduct applies to all participants in all of our events open to external partners and the public, as well as to the fellowship itself. We want to ensure that everyone who comes into the DSSG space to feel welcome, and we want to foster a safe, productive environment for fellows, staff, and visitors.

Anti-Harassment Policy

Our Anti-Harassment Policy explicitly outlines the behavior for which we have a zero tolerance policy. If you feel that you or anyone else is being harassed or treated unfairly, or have any other concerns related to this policy, please contact one of your fellow advocates. All contact with the fellow advocates will be confidential.

Data Science for Social Good is dedicated to providing a harassment-free experience in all event venues, including talks, parties, and online media, for everyone regardless of gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age or religion. We do not tolerate harassment of participants in any form.

Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to gender, sexual orientation, disability, gender identity, age, race, religion, the use or display of sexual images in public spaces, deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention. Participants asked to stop any such behavior are expected to comply immediately.

Participants asked to stop any harassing behavior are expected to comply immediately and may be sanctioned or expelled from the fellowship and/or all related events at the discretion of the organizers. Organizers may take any lawful action we deem appropriate, including but not limited to warning the offender or asking the offender to leave the specific event or the fellowship program as a whole.

If you feel anyone has violated this policy, please bring it up directly with the individual or with a DSSG staff member or fellow advocate.

If you feel you have been unfairly accused of violating this code of conduct, please contact the fellowship staff team with a concise description of your grievance; all grievances will be considered.

Goals of the Fellowship

Our long-term, overarching, unifying goal is to see more of this type of work happen in the world, and for our fellows to leave the program better equipped and more likely to use their skills for social good.

To achieve this vision, our program focuses on three guiding goals. Our goals are (in order of priority):

  1. Training Our Fellows
  2. Introducing Data Science to the Social Sector
  3. Building a Community of Data Scientists for Social Good

We know that these goals are lofty. We do not presume or pretend to know the optimal way to achieve them, but we believe it's worth trying. We want all of you to help us by actively contributing ideas to improve our program and achieve these goals more effectively.

Training Our Fellows

First and foremost, DSSG is a training program for fellows. We believe that the best way to learn is by working on real projects and not toy examples, which is why fellows work on real projects for real partners, in teams with other real people. The program provides training in the form of hands-on technical data science experience, but that’s not enough to do real data science for social good. The training aspect of the fellowship also includes working with project partners, understanding social issues, using social science methods, working collaboratively on a team, developing solutions in an agile way, and communicating effectively to technical and non-technical audiences.

We start off with a week of intensive orientation, getting everyone acquainted with each other and the structure of the program, as well as making sure all the fellows are up to speed with the tools and methods that are fellowship-wide standards. Training continues throughout the summer with lectures and workshops by staff, guest speakers, and fellow teach-outs. Dedicated full-time data science mentors and project managers will support and guide fellows throughout the summer.

In short, we want the summer to be a productive and collaborative experience for you, and will provide you with many resources; however, your biggest resource will be yourself and the other fellows in your cohort. Every fellow contributes their own wealth of experience and expertise, and we aim to foster a learning environment where everyone can share this knowledge and learn from one another.

Introducing Data Science to the Social Sector

We believe that data-driven decisionmaking isn’t reserved for companies selling online advertisements or banks trying to detect fraud. We know that data science can help governments, non-profits, and social good organizations do their work more effectively.

All of our project partners collect data, and many are already using data in some way, whether to evaluate their programs and write reports for their funders. However, most social good organizations have not used data science to actively inform their ongoing decision processes. Through this program, we aim to increase awareness of the benefits and challenges of data-driven impact work, both among the partners we work with and among non-profits and governments in general.

Our project partners are partners, not clients. This means that the fellows work with the partners, not for them. We believe that participating in this program helps both the partners and the fellows develop a common language. Sometimes fellows and partners won't see eye to eye on every decision, or the need to complete work within a deadline will mean you have to adjust your expectations, put learning VIM on the back burner, or sacrifice doing the work exactly the way you had hoped. While fellows' learning is our primary priority, it is important to note that part of what fellows are learning is how to work with partners to produce work that is useful for the partners and delivered on time.

Building a Community of Data Scientists for Social Good

We hope -- and expect -- that your impact as a DSSG alum continues beyond your summer tenure. Throughout the summer, we will introduce you to other practitioners within the data science and social good spaces to help you understand these sectors, form relationships, and start to think about potential contributions you could make. You’ll also have the opportunity to network with local data science, tech, government, non-profit, and startup communities through regular fellowship-sponsored happy hours and meetups.

Whether it’s continuing to collaborate with your DSSG colleagues on other social good projects, joining the data team at a government agency, or working to recruit other like-minded people to apply their in-demand data science skills to impactful problems, we hope that this is just the beginning of of a lifetime as a data scientist for social good.

Our Hopes for Your Fellowship Experience

The fellowship provides you with the opportunity to learn; to work on important, challenging, and unique projects; and to meet a lot of people who share your interests and goals. It is up to you to take advantage of these opportunities.

We hope you use the summer to:

  • Meet a group of fellows, staff and project partners who have a wealth of skills and experiences; listen to and learn from them; and make new friends.
  • Embrace gaps in your knowledge as learning opportunities, exploring your limitations with respect to technical skills, new methods from different disciplines, project management, social issues, and teamwork.
  • Learn about the challenges of working on real projects that don’t have clean data, guaranteed results, or elegant solutions.
  • Navigate the triangle between learning technical skills, creating deliverables that are useful and actionable for your project partner, and putting the varied skills within your team to good use.
  • Rise to the challenge of working on a team that will include strong personalities with diverse experiences and strengths
  • Realize the ambiguity and uncertainty that comes with working in a traditionally less tech-savvy sector, and learn how to communicate effectively to bridge this gap.
  • Explore the impact (intentional and unintentional) that working with data from real, often disadvantaged or marginalized, people might have on them.
  • Think deeply about the scope and limitations of technology to improve social problems.
  • Explore existing roles in the field of data science for social good, find one you are best suited for, or create your own.

Throughout the summer, we encourage you to share your ideas about how to improve the fellowship experience for yourself and others -- and to put them into action. We are constantly trying to improve the fellowship every day throughout the summer, and over time as we learn from each cohort.

Our Expectations of Fellows

The fellowship offers a lot of freedom; however, we expect all fellows to stick to the basic principles of conduct listed below at all times. These guidelines apply to everybody at the fellowship, including mentors, project managers, and the fellowship organizers. If you feel that anyone is not behaving in accordance with these guidelines, we invite you to bring it up constructively. If you are unsure who to address, or if you do not feel comfortable doing so directly, you can bring up your concerns with the fellow advocate.

  • Be supportive, open-minded, and willing to compromise. DSSG brings together people from different backgrounds and with different skills. In fact, this might be the best resource the fellowship has to offer! Share your knowledge and your experience with each other. Be patient as you teach each other, and have an open ear for your peers.

  • Be professional. You will be working with NGOs, non-profits, and government institutions as project partners. You will also be presenting your work at and attending events with the general public. In all of these capacities you are acting as a representative of the DSSG community. We expect you to be professional — that is, respectful, friendly, and on time — in your conduct with partners and the public alike.

  • Be resourceful and pragmatic. Own your own learning. Seek out resources as necessary. Don't be shy to ask others for help, but be mindful of their time - tell them what what you do understand, where you're stuck, and what you’ve already tried, so they know how they can help. When you notice problems or have ideas for improvements — be it in your team, your project, or the fellowship — don’t rely on others to notice or fix them; offer your initiative.

  • Deal with conflicts maturely. There are many potential sources of conflict throughout the fellowship. It is perfectly acceptable, and even expected, that you will run into conflicts with your team, your mentors, your project, or the fellowship organizers. In any case, we ask you to be productive, pragmatic, and mature when dealing with conflicts. Keep an open mind, listen and communicate with everybody involved. Neither your project, nor your team, nor the fellowship will be perfect. Remember that everyone involved has invested a lot in the fellowship and wants all participants to be happy.

  • Show up. We have all committed to be here for the duration of the program. The fellowship runs from approximately Memorial Day through Labor Day (specific dates change by year). We expect you to be in the office five days a week, to attend all DSSG-wide sessions, occasional special events, and the final event. We recognize that you have a life outside of the fellowship, and if you have any known or potential absences, you must inform DSSG staff upon your acceptance. Any additional conflicts that arise during the summer must be discussed with and agreed between you, your team, and your project manager well ahead of time.

  • Take care of the space. Offices, meeting rooms, and kitchen areas are shared spaces. It’s everybody’s job to keep the space clean and free of messes. This policy also applies when you are attending off-site events.

  • Stay involved and act as a steward. As a member of the DSSG community, we expect a commitment from you to stay involved, even after the summer. We ask you to seek opportunities to present the work you did, whether it's at your university, company, or events in your area. We ask you to assist your team in writing publications about your project, both during and after the fellowship. We will also ask you to help us with the application process in the following years by reviewing applications and interviewing candidates. We ask that you do what you're able to contribute to the DSSG mission and community.


Regardless of how much experience you have, we admitted you because we believe that you can make a valuable contribution to your cohort, and we think being a DSSG fellow will help prepare you to do data science for social good in the real world. We've made a commitment to you and want to do everything we can to help you succeed. This is really important, so we'll say it again, in bold: If you're reading this, you are here because we want you to be here and believe that you are ready to make an impact. For example, don't worry about how much more or less productive, knowledgable, or experienced other fellows in your cohort might appear to be. It's easy to only pay attention - and compare yourself - to those who seem to be doing particularly well. Know that everyone has their own struggles, and everyone has good and bad days.

The DSSG Environment

The Space

Each year we rent a space in Chicago. While the space changes from year to year, in general the layout is open, and teams sit at desks together. There is private conference space for team meetings and calls with partners. Upon arrival, you will receive the conference room request and reservation policy. We also provide access to a kitchen, with coffee and an espresso maker. We provide a limited supply of snacks and catered meals for special events. Let us know if you have any special food restrictions.

You will learn more about space logistics (location, key card access, etc.) by email as they are finalized in the weeks leading up to the fellowship.

The People

The foundation of any good project is a good team. We’ve worked to recruit and hand pick a passionate and skilled team of interdisciplinary folks that all bring unique skills to your cohort. The fellowship is comprised of teams of three or four fellows each. Your teammates will be fellow graduate students and recent graduates. We aim to ensure that each team has a mix of backgrounds, from computer science, statistics, math, physical science and engineering, social sciences and public policy.

Your team will be assigned a Senior Data Science Mentor. Each Mentor will be working with several teams of fellows, supporting their growth and project. All mentors are experienced data scientists who serve as a resource for you through the project development process, both with hands-on technical problems and implementation questions, as well as through higher-level design decisions.

In addition to Technical Mentors, you will have a Project Manager. Each Project Manager oversees several teams and is responsible for managing your relationship with your project partner. They work with you and your partner to set goals and deadlines, ensure proper communication between your team and your partner, and help tackle issues that are blocking your progress. Your Project Manager is also a great resource for questions about organizing teamwork, improving presentation skills, and communicating with the public.

If fellows have any kind of questions or concerns that they would like to discuss confidentially, they can address the Fellow Advocate. This is a member of staff who is not involved directly in managing the fellowship, and who is available to help with any conflict between fellows and members of staff. The advocate can also raise concerns or ask for help on behalf of fellows, should they feel uncomfortable doing so themselves.

The fellowship has one or more Interns, who help with all organizational and administrative tasks that the summer brings, like setting up the space, helping organize and publicize events, and recording tutorials. In their remaining time, interns might also help teams with their projects or work on their own self-directed data science projects.

The Communications Manager prepares media and press releases and manages interactions with the press. The communications manager helps fellows practice and polish their final presentations, and gives feedback on blog posts and other write-ups. We strongly believe in the importance of communicating the work we do, to our project partners, as well as to the broader public. To that end, we will spend a lot of the summer asking fellows to present their work and give them continuous feedback on the presentations.

The Fellowship Organizers have spent months planning and preparing the summer program. They select fellows, mentors, project managers, interns, and project partners, find a space, secure funding, prepare the summer’s curriculum, and plan all fellowship events. Over the summer, they will lead some of the fellowship-wide activities (such as the weekly deep dives and stand-ups), and teach some of the workshops. They also supervise the mentors, project managers, interns, and the communications manager.

The Curriculum

Our goal is for you to learn a LOT this summer. We want you to feel empowered to drive your education throughout the summer. We see learning opportunities falling into three main buckets:

  • Self-Directed Learning: We will share specific resources and guidelines for topics that we find useful in order to kick-start this learning process. We then encourage you to dive in and learn the skills most applicable to you and your growth.
  • Peer-Directed Learning: We aim to create an environment that facilitates learning among fellows. Whether it’s an informal discussion over lunch or a more formal teaching session, we encourage you to take advantage of the diversity of experiences and skills in the room.
  • Fellowship-Directed Learning: Lastly, we have developed a specific workshop curriculum to cover basic concepts that we believe are essential for the summer.

It is up to you to make sure you are seeking the resources you need to learn the skills you want to learn. For example, in the past, groups of fellows have started reading groups to learn about similar topics, like deep learning, together. That being said, if you are lost, speak up. You shouldn't feel that you are unable to make a meaningful contribution to your project. Your technical mentor is available to help you tackle skill gaps.

In all of this, we recognize that there is no definitive “Data Science for Social Good” curriculum or roadmap. We are charting new territory and developing it together. Throughout the summer, there will be plenty of opportunities for feedback and brainstorming on how to improve learning; for example, in past summers we have held an informal “Dunkin’ Discussion” series where we discuss the future of data science for social good over donuts.

The Tools

We typically use GitHub for storing our codebase, Amazon Web Services for our data storage and analysis, Slack for fellowship-wide communication, and Trello for project management. We also store team-wide and fellowship-wide documents on Google Drive, and we schedule meetings on Google Calendar. You will receive a University of Chicago email address to use for the duration of the fellowship. You are expected to use this for all fellowship-related communication.

The Communication

Teams will work together to develop specific team norms, but each team will have a daily morning stand up meeting with their project manager and technical mentors. In these meetings, each fellow will have the opportunity to discuss what they did the day before, what they’re planning to do today, and what they’re stuck on.

In addition to that daily meeting, teams will have weekly conference calls with their project partner to provide updates, ask questions, and receive feedback on their progress.

The Fun

While this is a job — and we expect you to treat it as such — we would hate for the summer to be all work and no play. We want to help foster a community among your cohort.

We start the summer off with a host of orientation events, including a fellowship-wide picnic, a variety of icebreakers, and a scavenger hunt for you to get to know the city. We host “Un-DSSG”, a day for you to share your side passions (from fondue making to dance) with your new peers. Throughout the summer, we host happy hours every other week, and invite the larger data science, tech, startup, government, and non-profit communities. Nearly daily, we pull out the ping pong table after hours, often leading to intense rivalries tracked on Slack by Pongbot.