T-TRIPODS Institute

The First Year

In October 2019, Tufts was awarded $1.5 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) toward the creation of an interdisciplinary data science institute. The new Tufts Center for Transdisciplinary Research In Principles Of Data Science (T-TRIPODS) celebrated its launch on January 31, 2020.

T-TRIPODS is designed to connect the many data science efforts across all the schools of Tufts and to provide them with a solid theoretical foundation, sourced from the three core Tufts departments that study the foundations of data science, including theoretical machine learning, information theory, and statistical analysis. These three core groups are the Departments of Computer Science (CS) and Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) in the School of Engineering, and the Department of Mathematics in the School of Arts and Sciences. The core research component of T-TRIPODS is built around overlapping three-year focused research topics.

In an article published in the Tufts Daily, Computer Science Professor Lenore Cowen, who is the principal investigator for the grant, explained that “T-TRIPODS will foster collaborative research and advising, as well as provide summer academic opportunities, workshops and conferences to undergraduate students, graduate students, and professional personnel.”

Cowen is only one of the many faculty and students who are involved. There are 17 associated faculty in all, from not just the CS, ECE, and Math departments, but also representatives from the Center for STEM Diversity, the Data Intensive Studies Center (DISC), and the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning (UEP). All participating faculty are attached to one or more main research topics. Many graduate students are also involved, often jointly supervised by faculty from different departments. Altogether, approximately 50 faculty, staff, and students are involved in T-TRIPODS.

The institute is intended to connect faculty in four different application areas with faculty working in the core foundations. These four application areas were chosen to be areas of particular Tufts strength: Area I (Biological and Biomedical Data), Area II (Education and Cognitive Science), Area III (Smart Cities: Design and Development), and Area IV (Computational Humanities, including Language and Music).

The three-year grant represents Phase I of a potential 10-year funding commitment if T-TRIPODS is successful in securing further funding. A projected timeline for the institute is available here.

Getting started: Fall 2019 and Spring 2020

During the first year of Phase I (October 2019-August 2020), TRIPODS faculty launched Research Topic 1: Graphs and Tensor Representations of Data. Three graduate PhD students working on this topic (one each in CS, Math, and ECE), were paired with faculty co-advisors in the other two departments, making an advising trio with their main advisor. As part of this effort, Lenore Cowen taught a new course in Network Science in the CS department in Fall 2019.  She will further refine the course when she teaches it again in Fall 2020.

On January 31, 2020, with the support of the Tufts President, Provost, Deans, Director of Tufts recently launched Data Intensive Studies Center, and the Office of the Vice-Provost for Research, T-TRIPODS held a one-day launch event that introduced Tufts faculty, plus a limited number of faculty experts from other Boston-area institutions, to each other's work. The day also included plenary speakers, a panel on the ethics of data science, and a session on best practices for broadening participation in data science.

The special session that T-TRIPODS was going to run in the spring on the mathematics of Data Science at the American Mathematical Society (AMS) sectional meeting was unfortunately cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, T-TRIPODS invited the speakers to speak in a new virtual weekly colloquium on the Mathematics of Data Science. That colloquium series has met weekly since mid-March, co-hosted by James Murphy in the Tufts math department and Lenore Cowen in the Tufts CS department.  It will also host speakers from several of the new NSF TRIPODS institutes across the country. These talks are open to all. (To get on the email list for seminar announcements, you can email tripods-mathdatascience-seminar@elist.tufts.edu and request to be placed on the email list.)

Additionally, the planned ideas lab being organized by Professors Misha Kilmer (Math), Donna Slonim (CS), and Shuchin Aeron (ECE) connecting graphs and tensors to problems in drug discovery, is being rescheduled. What was originally conceived as an in-person meeting for the spring will now be held as a virtual meeting this summer.

Closing out the first year: Summer 2020

In the summer of 2020, T-TRIPODS is planning to hold multiple events. Among them is an intensive reading group with Research Focus I faculty and their associated graduate students on graphs and tensors. This reading group is open to other interested PhD students and faculty working in the foundations of data science (email any of the associated faculty for an invitation). The Mathematics of Data Science colloquium series will continue through the end of June.

In addition to holding these events, T-TRIPODS is also supporting undergraduate research experiences in data science mentored by foundations and applications faculty from across the university. In this endeavor, the institute is partnering with existing Tufts summer programs such as Tufts Summer Scholars to support data science projects in particular, but is also creating a new undergraduate summer program. This new initiative, created through the Tufts Center for STEM Diversity, is called Directed, Intensive And Mentored Opportunities iN Data Science (DIAMONDS) and is an effort to ensure that opportunities in data science are available to all. This is a full-time eight-week program for students to work with a faculty mentor. To see more about the DIAMONDS program, please go here.