Student Perspective: Resources and Support for Ph.D. Students

Bryan Christ
March 16, 2023

As first-year Ph.D. students in the first-ever University of Virginia School of Data Science (SDS) Ph.D. cohort, we get the exciting role of helping shape the future direction and focus of the program going forward. Giving feedback is one critical element in that process, and we are lucky enough to have a receptive Dean, Phil Bourne, and Associate Dean, Jeffrey Blume, who welcome our feedback. To that end, we have lunch with Dean Bourne once per semester and lunch with Dean Blume once per month to check in, chat and discuss our thoughts.

In many programs, students might be offered the opportunity to give feedback with no substantial changes following their suggestions. However, the SDS Ph.D. program is different and our academic leadership acts upon our suggestions. For instance, my classmates and I felt as though we needed an introductory boot camp for R so that we would be able to effectively utilize it in our Probability and Stochastic Processes and Machine Learning I courses. Within a week of giving that feedback, we had a half-day introductory R boot camp led by Professor Thomas Stewart that was extremely helpful and filled in the gaps we had noticed. Going forward, Deans Bourne and Blume plan to build the workshop into orientation programming for incoming Ph.D. cohorts.

Student and mentor enjoying data science

In addition to having access to a supportive and receptive leadership team, we are also able to participate in other SDS boot camps that build critical skills and foster professional development. Thus far, Professor Pete Alonzi has hosted two workshops for us to supplement what we are learning in class: one on GNU/Linux and one on high performance computing (HPC). The GNU/Linux workshop taught us how to perform critical commands within the operating system’s command line, while the HPC workshop taught us how to access and use HPC resources available to SDS students

Broader Resources for all UVA Ph.D. Students

As UVA Ph.D. students, we also have access to resources offered to students across Grounds (UVA’ s term for campus). One key resource available to PhD students is UVA’s Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs, which offers funding resources/supports and hosts/leads graduate diversity events and initiatives. The Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral affairs also runs the PhD+ program, which offers non-credit professional development workshops available to all UVA PhD students. In these workshops, you can learn anything from budgeting as a PhD student to how to write and refine grant proposals.

UVA Library, books and statueWe also have access to the UVA Library and all the amazing services they offer, including Data Services Workshops on R, Python, Rivanna (UVA’s HPC system), Data Visualization, Qualitative Data, Research Computing, and other key data science topics.


Housing Solutions and Ideas

There are several housing resources available to UVA Ph.D. students. The two main options are on-Grounds housing offered through UVA or off-Grounds housing in the city of Charlottesville.

Apartment living roomWhether you are seeking furnished or unfurnished, single or shared occupancy, there are many options to choose from to fit your needs. Families will likely be most comfortable in off-Grounds housing, while single individuals can live on or off Grounds.