Launched just a few months ago, Yale’s two newest undergraduate majors — neuroscience and statistics and data science, or SDS — are already seeing high interest from students and faculty.

The neuroscience major is a collaboration between the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and the Department of Psychology. SDS is a revamped version of the statistics major that previously existed at Yale College; it was created after the Department of Statistics evolved into the Department of Statistics and Data Science in March.

So far, the response to the creation of the neuroscience major has been “phenomenal,” said MCDB professor Damon Clark and psychology professor Nicholas Turk-Browne GRD ’09, the directors of undergraduate studies for the major. This spring, Clark and Turk-Browne added, two seniors will graduate as neuroscience majors.

“We have had a lot of interest among first-year students, including at the academic fair and during college advising,” Clark said. “We anticipate that the major will continue to grow as the student body grows and as students have more time to plan for the major’s prerequisites and requirements.”

Students have shown similar interest in the new statistics and data science major, according to Harrison Zhou, the chair of the department. Before the changes, Zhou said, the statistics major had 20 students. Now, based on the schedules signed by the directors of undergraduate studies this fall, the number of Yalies majoring in SDS is expected to be more than 51, according to Zhou. He added that he anticipates the growth to continue in the coming years.

SDS will expand on the course offerings that were already available in the Department of Statistics, according to Sekhar Tatikonda, an electrical engineering and statistics professor and one of the two directors of undergraduate studies in the SDS major.

The department saw increased enrollment in many of its courses this fall, Tatikonda added.

“[Broadening the scope of the major] was a very good idea,” he said. “There has been for a while now a growing interest and demand from students, faculty and employers for education and training in data science. We’ve received broad support from all across campus.”

The department is getting ready to hire up to four more faculty members to broaden the set of courses offered in the major, Zhou said. The new hires will strengthen machine learning research at Yale and support cross-departmental interdisciplinary work.

This spring, the department will offer a new intensive introductory statistics and data science course taught by statistics and data science professor Joseph Chang.

As for neuroscience, Clark noted that while the major is a joint effort, all its new courses will reside in “home departments,” such as MCDB and psychology.

“Within this system, we are working to put forward an excited and varied set of neuroscience courses each year,” Clark said.

Tianna Zhou ’18 and Wendy Sun ’18, both seniors who switched into the neuroscience major from the neuroscience track in the Psychology Department, emphasized the interdisciplinary nature of the new major as one of the reasons they decided to make the switch.

“I switched to the new major because it is the truest reflection of everything I had already chosen to learn during my time at Yale,” Sun said. “As a neuroscience major, my trajectory of courses isn’t actually changing, and that’s the beauty: unbeknownst to me, I have been a neuroscience major all along, as my academic and research choices perfectly match this major.”

Still, the students said they would like to see a larger support network both within the major and more broadly among students interested in neuroscience across the University. Lasya Sreepada ’20 said she and several other students are working to start a Yale neuroscience research organization to do just that. Statistics and data science majors interviewed by the News also emphasized the enhanced interdisciplinarity of the new major as one of its advantages.

Gena Coblentz ’19, originally an applied mathematics major, said she and a group of other applied math majors decided to switch to SDS because it combined the flexibility of applied math with a focus on the theory and applications of statistics.

“I think the changes in the major are fantastic, and make the major more inviting to a broader range of students,“ she said.

Students interviewed also emphasized that the SDS major promises to teach them skills applicable to a wide array of jobs.

Katherine Brumberg ’19, an SDS major, said the major will equip students with “tools they need to tackle the [large] data sets of today’s world,” and thus provide them with skills useful in many careers.

Still, both Brumberg and Brian Kitano ’19, another SDS major, said they would like to see a wider variety of classes offered. Brumberg said she would like to have more classes specifically geared toward advanced data science, and Kitano said he hoped the major would offer more specific courses and cycle out the visiting professors more often to give students access to a broader array of material with real-world applications.

Yale’s original Department of Statistics was founded in 1963.

Anastasiia Posnova |