TRIADS Training Series demystifies data science tools for WashU students, staff, and faculty

A new series of courses and workshops from the Transdisciplinary Institute in Applied Data Sciences aims to bring the tools of effective data science to the WashU community – all for free.

As the manager of the leafy greenhouses found in Washington University's Jeanette Goldfarb Plant Growth Facility, Benjamin Wolf oversees a carefully calibrated world packed with scientific data.

While the greenhouses' soybeans, clover, and tomato plants seem worlds removed from spreadsheets and computer code, every single greenhouse plant generates staggering amounts of biological data for scientific study. Properly capturing and analyzing it requires a deep knowledge of data science, and Wolf is always looking to learn more.

So when the Transdisciplinary Institute in Applied Data Sciences (TRIADS) put out the call for a free introductory course in the Python programming language earlier this year, Wolf jumped at the opportunity.

"I feel that Python is a must-have skill for anyone interested in biological science and working with data," Wolf said. "So I registered for the course hoping to get a jump start into learning how to code in Python and to start getting familiar with it."

Across six, 90-minute sessions in January and February, Wolf and a group of about 20 WashU staff, faculty, students, and postdocs got a crash course in the supremely user-friendly and adaptable Python. That knowledge will help Wolf to further refine and streamline the greenhouses' operations.

"Eventually, I plan to be able to use Python to process data from the host of sensors in the Plant Growth Facility," Wolf said.

The Python course was just the first offering for an expansive and ambitious new TRIADS Training Series, which aims to bring the tools of data science to the entire WashU community for free.

The Training Series has roared to life in the Spring 2024 semester, offering 15 courses and workshops on utilizing data science tools. Topics have included machine learning, data analysis and visualization, and ChatGPT.

TRIADS director Jacob Montgomery says that he and associate director Tammy English saw a need for this kind of fast, accessible, and utilitarian style of data science education. Modern research requires a working knowledge of numerous computer programs, along with specialized skills that don't always get covered in official courses.

"Our goal is to 'fill in the gaps' of the formal curriculum, and make sure these skills are within reach for every researcher at WashU regardless of their school or department," Montgomery said.

TRIADS Training Series classes have seen 165 registrants so far, with several courses still accepting participants through the end of April. View the Training Series schedule on TRIADS' website.