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What do assessing the urgency of patients at A&E, predicting steel quality, and reducing traffic fumes have in common?

The answer is that they are all challenges which have been worked on in a Turing Data Study Group: week-long events bringing together early career researchers with real-world data science problems.

You have until 19 November to apply for the Turing’s fourth Data Study Group which will take place 11 to 15 December 2017, and which will mark the programme’s one year anniversary – a perfect time to take stock on what has been achieved and what lies ahead.

What is a Data Study Group?

Sebastian Vollmer opening the September 2017 Data Study Group.

“It’s tempting to think of a Data Study Group as a kind of hackathon but they’re quite different”, said Dr Sebastian Vollmer, Director of Data Study Groups at The Alan Turing Institute.

“Although both are open innovation platforms, they take very distinct approaches.  Hackathons are typically competitive and unstructured: our Data Study Groups are very collaborative, and team-work is guided by a facilitator – another early career researcher.  In setting up the Turing Data Study Groups we wanted to demonstrate that collegiate and inclusive behaviour fosters great science.”

The format has its genesis at Oxford in 1968, where Study Groups with Industry provided a forum for industrial scientists to work alongside academic mathematicians on industry problems. Sebastian adapted the concept for the Turing. Organisations providing challenges for the three Data Study Groups undertaken so far have included: the Care Quality Commission (CQC), Codecheck.info, dstl, the Francis Crick Institute, HSBC, National Grid, Samsung, Siemens, and Thomson Reuters.

What’s special about a Turing Data Study Group?

“They get traction from across Britain – and across the world,” said Dr Kirstie Whitaker, Turing Fellow and member of the Turing Data Study Group executive team.  “The strong national engagement we’re seeing is something we celebrate. The international response we get is also fantastic – for the Data Study Group event in September 2017, we received applications from Belgium, Brazil, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Switzerland, USA, and Venezuela.  It’s been inspiring to see a socially diverse talent pool in the applications we receive, and this is something we are actively building on.  And we’ve received feedback from participants that the teams really enjoy the diverse range of disciplines working together in a Turing Data Study Group, which is what the data science community is all about.”

What have been the biggest achievements of the Turing Data Study Groups so far? 

“One of the highlights for me was the Data Study Groups being mentioned in Professor Wendy Hall and Jérôme Pesenti’s AI review, Growing the Artificial Intelligence Industry in the UK,” said Sebastian.  “Another recent highlight was our work with NHS Scotland and the Patient Benefit and Privacy Panel to secure significant access to patient data to improve prediction of patient risk of admission or re-admission to A&E. The Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham recently stated that innovation and privacy can co-exist, and we demonstrated that that was true.”

What have been the biggest lessons learned so far?  

“We are constantly pioneering, and we work at pace,“ Kirstie said.  “Although this can be wonderfully rewarding, sometimes it’s a bit hair-raising too because it the only way you can find out what effect an innovation will have is by trying it out.  We’ve found the best way to manage this is to be open to feedback, be open to dialogue, and approach our decision-making with the same collaborative and agile mindset we encourage participants to take during a Data Study Group week itself.”

Join us on 11-15 December:

We encourage PhD students, early career researchers and industry-based data scientists to join us for the next Data Study Group taking place 11-15 December at the Institute headquarters.

Example challenges for the December 2017 Data Study Group include ‘Can we create an app to reveal how our food choices impact climate change?’, ‘Which satellites are in use at any place and time?’, ‘What can be learned from “failed” clinical trials?’, with more details to be shared very soon.

Find out more and apply here before the 19 November deadline.