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Our Honest Review of UChicago DSI's Summer Lab

Are you a high school student fascinated by the world of data science? If so, then today’s blog post exploring what makes the University of Chicago's Data Science Institute (DSI) Summer Lab program an excellent opportunity to pursue is just for you. In a field as dynamic and rapidly evolving as data science, gaining early exposure and hands-on experience is invaluable. Participating in such a program not only hones your skills but also enhances your college application profile and sets a strong foundation for your future career. Let's dive into the details of the DSI Summer Lab.


What is DSI Summer Lab?

The DSI Summer Lab, hosted by the University of Chicago, is an immersive 8-week paid research program, rooted in fostering a deep understanding of data science and its applications across fields. Paired with a research mentor, you will get to work on a real-world project, on topics ranging from agricultural consolidation to robotics in 3D printing to breast cancer imaging. You will also be working with undergraduate students under the same mentor, further enriching your learning experience. The program also features professional development and training to help you prepare for a career in data science.


What are the eligibility criteria?

To apply for the DSI Summer Lab, you must:

  • Be a current freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior in the Chicago area. Note that you cannot apply to the program if you’re not based in the Chicago area.

  • Demonstrate a keen interest in data science and research.

  • Be committed to working 40 hours a week for the full 8-week duration.


Is it prestigious?

The DSI Summer Lab is a highly selective program, with the 2023 batch taking in only 9 high schoolers and 13 undergrads. This is somewhat tempered by the fact that you must be a Chicago area resident. The projects are carefully chosen for their relevance and potential impact. The mentors you will be working with include noted industry experts from such organizations as the Fermi National Accelerator Lab, Booth School of Business, the Argonne National Lab and of course professors from the DSI itself. Overall, we would rate this program as moderately prestigious, its high exposure and small batch size being offset by the restrictive eligibility criteria.


How does the application process work?

The application process for the Summer Lab is unfortunately not fully updated yet by DSI, however, the following information is available:

  • The summer 2024 application will open on December 1, 2023 and will be due by January 16, 2024.

  • A letter of recommendation, while not required, is recommended. You can obtain one from a teacher, coach or mentor and submit it alongside your application.

  • You should subscribe to the DSI Mailing List to get the application information once it's released on December 1, and also register for the virtual information session on December 13.


How is Summer Lab structured?

The DSI Summer Lab is structured to provide a comprehensive learning experience. You will get to work on diverse projects spanning computer science, social science, climate and energy policy, materials science, and even biomedical research. Your learning will not just be restricted to data science techniques but also how to apply them in various fields. The quality of mentorship is top-notch, with faculty members actively involved in guiding your research direction and efforts. DSI also arranges for a weekly speaker series and professional development workshops. The program culminates in you presenting your research symposium-style in a virtual conference, but it doesn’t end there - DSI will support your efforts in getting your work published or implementing policy change working with nonprofits. If all that weren’t enough, you will get paid a $4800 stipend for your 8 weeks of work!


Here are a couple examples of past projects:


  • Self-Driving Telescopes: A high schooler from Fremont worked with Dr. Brian Nord of the Fermi National Accelerator Lab on leveraging reinforcement learning for astronomical observation scheduling. Her algorithms are now being pitched to telescope observatories and her code might be used in their software.


  • Fast Molecular Simulations: A high schooler from Evanston worked with his UChicago mentor on developing a machine learning model for efficient simulation of dehydration reactions. Together, they developed a machine learning model that reduced the simulation time to two minutes from the prior hour-long computationally expensive efforts.


Considering Pros and Cons

Pros:


  1. You will get practical, hands-on experience: Alongside your mentor and undergrad peers, you’ll be working on real-world data science projects with a concrete impact. Think of it as a crash course on how to do scientific research, while learning from those who do it for a living. This leads us to our next point.

  2. You will have access to quality mentorship: The small batch size of Summer Lab ensures that you will get to work closely with your mentor, greatly enhancing the depth of your learning. And as we have pointed out in this blog post, the mentors themselves are leaders in their respective fields

  3. You will have great opportunities for networking and collaboration: Again, the small batch size of the program helps you here in forming real lasting networks with seniors and peers in your field of interest, which will help you greatly in your future career.

  4. You will get paid a stipend: $4800 for an excellent learning opportunity is nothing to scoff at!


Cons:


  1. Program eligibility is restrictive: Unfortunately, if you’re not a high schooler resident in the Chicago area, you simply cannot apply for this program.

  2. Limited spots make it highly competitive: Even if you’re located in the Chicago area, there’s very few spots available in Summer Lab, making admission highly competitive.

Our review

The UChicago DSI Summer Lab is an exceptional program for those interested in data science. It offers a blend of theoretical learning and practical application, guided by experts in the field. While competitive and challenging, the rewards in terms of skill development, networking, and career advancement are significant. If you’re located in the Chicago area, this is one program that you should strongly consider applying to.


Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you’re keen on pursuing in-depth research in STEM,  you could also consider applying to one of the Lumiere Research Scholar Programs, selective online high school programs for students I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.


Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a PhD student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.


Image Source: UChicago logo

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