On the morning of Jan. 14, students filled all 155 seats in the Luce auditorium, while others sat on the stairwells and some even stood on the upper balcony.

The occasion? The inaugural meeting of YData, a new course in the Statistics and Data Science department catering to students with little data and programming experience.

“YData is intended to be a gateway into programming, working with real data sets, and inferential thinking,” said professor of statistics and data science Jessi Cisewski, who co-teaches the course along with S&DS professor John Lafferty.

Originally, the instructors planned on capping the class at 100, Cisewski said, but the course saw extremely high demand. At its peak on Jan. 14, 298 Yale students had selected YData for their course selection worksheet, according to course demand statistics.

“We originally decided to limit enrollment to 100 students because we wanted to make sure the computational infrastructure worked before we scale the process to something much larger,” said Cisewski.

To decide which students could enroll in the course, the teachers used demographic results of a “welcome survey,” explained Cisewski. Instructors accepted 162 students to the course: all interested seniors — exempting those with extensive programming experience — and other students with no programming or statistics experience.

In addition to the YData lecture, students may opt to enroll in YData seminars, which are half-credit courses intended to expose students to a focused area of application. Currently, three seminars are offered: ExoStatistics taught by Cisewski, Text Data Science taught by Lafferty and Science for Politics taught by Joshua Kalla, a professor of political science and S&DS. Cisewski estimated that about 30 students will take each of these three seminars.

“Data science is present and active in so many different disciplines — in the future we could have history, literature, physics or any faculty teaching these types of classes,” said Cisewski.

Lafferty explained that the YData program is modeled after Data 8, a highly demanded course offered at the University of California, Berkeley. Though the curriculum and course content is largely borrowed, “the course will take on a unique Yale character through the YData seminars that are being offered,” Lafferty said.

In the first lecture of YData, Cisewski explained that the course strives to teach students how to draw meaningful conclusions from data using computation. She walked the class through literary-inspired examples, which used text analysis to make inferences about the plots of novels. Simple analysis of how many times the Little Women characters’ first names appeared in the novel allowed students to infer that the protagonist’s name was Jo — since she was the most frequently mentioned character.

Cisewski explained that she hopes the course will expose students who have never seen data science or statistics before to a powerful tool they can use in their professional life, regardless of their career path.

“Many Yale students don’t take the more standard programming or statistics courses. But if students have a grounding in these areas, many new opportunities can open up. It kind of gives a new lens through which to view the world,” said Lafferty.

According to Cisewski, the administration plans on offering the course again next spring.

Jessica Pevner | jessica.pevner@yale.edu