Keywords: data science, statistics, organization, leadership, research
This paper will discuss building a thriving Center for Data Science within a large and well-respected non-profit research institute, our mission, and the type of work we do. We are a team of 21 data scientists, statisticians, software developers, and artists (yes, artists) at RTI International, where our overall mission is to improve the human condition, and our Center’s mission is “data science for social good”. What is it like building and leading such an organization from scratch after 26 years as a statistician at RTI? We’ll cover several important considerations, some of which we committed to early on, some of which evolved (and continue to evolve) through practice and experimentation: choosing a leader, our team composition, continuous recruitment and retention efforts, the necessity of technical as well as domain and soft skills, the idea of team vs. group culture, elements of our philosophy—namely rapid prototyping, human-centered design, and an open source mindset—that drive success in collaborating with domain researchers across RTI, fostering staff engagement, and creating a continuous learning environment in a fast-moving field. Finally, we’ll cover some of our most impactful projects and some of our best adventures to date, those solving important national problems, improving our local communities, and transforming research.