CMSC320 – Spring 2017

Introduction to Data Science

Data Science!?

Instructor: John P. Dickerson
TAs: Denis Peskov (lead), Anant Dalela, Neil Alberg
Lectures: Tuesday and Thursday, 3:30–4:45 PM, CSIC 3117

Description of Course

Data science encapsulates the interdisciplinary activities required to create data-centric products and applications that address specific scientific, socio-political or business questions. It has drawn tremendous attention from both academia and industry and is making deep inroads in industry, government, health and journalism—just ask Nate Silver!

This course focuses on (i) data management systems, (i) exploratory and statistical data analysis, (ii) data and information visualization, and (iv) the presentation and communication of analysis results. It will be centered around case studies drawing extensively from applications, and will yield a publicly-available final project that will strengthen course participants' data science portfolios.

This course will consist primarily of sets of self-contained lectures and assignments that leverage real-world data science platforms when needed; as such, there is no assigned textbook. Each lecture will come with links to required reading, which should be done before that lecture, and (when appropriate) a list of links to other resources on the web.


Students enrolled in the course should be comfortable with programming (for those at UMD, having passed CMSC216 will be good enough!) and be reasonably mathematically mature. The course itself will make heavy use of the Python scripting language by way of the Anaconda distribution and its conda package management system; we'll give some Python-for-data-science primer lectures early on, so don't worry if you haven't used Python before. Later lectures will delve into statistics and machine learning and may make use of basic calculus and basic linear algebra; light mathematical maturity is preferred at roughly the level of a junior CS student.

There will be one written, in-class midterm examination. There will not be a final examination; rather, in the interest of building students' public portfolios, and in the spirit of "learning by doing", students will create a self-contained online tutorial to be posted publicly. This tutorial can be created individually or in a small group. We'll solidify details in class, but the tutorial will be a publicly-accessible website that provides an end-to-end walkthrough of identifying and scraping a specific data source, performing some exploratory analysis, and providing some sort of managerial or operational insight from that data.

Final grades will be calculated as:

You can earn full credit for class participation in three ways:

  1. Lecture participation, asking questions and answering your peers questions;
  2. Piazza participation, asking and answering questions on Piazza; and
  3. Regular attendance at office hours.
To earn full credit you should aim to ask or answer a question at least once every two weeks in lecture or on Piazza; or attend office hours at least once a month (this can include just going to my office hours to chat about computer science, data, science, software engineering, etc.).

This course is aimed at junior- and senior-level Computer Science majors, but should be accessible to any student of life with some degree of mathematical and statistical maturity, reasonable experience with programming, and an interest in the topic area. If in doubt, e-mail me:!

Office Hours & Communication

For course-related questions, please use Piazza to communicate with your fellow students, the TAs, and the course instructor. For private correspondance or special situations (e.g., excused absences, DDS accomodations, etc), please email John with [CMSC320] in the email subject line.

Office Hours
Human Email Time Location
Neil Alberg Wednesdays, 2PM–3PM AVW 1120
Anant Dalela Fridays, 11AM–12PM AVW 1112
John Dickerson Fridays, 1PM–2PM. Also by appointment; please email me with [CMSC320] in the email subject line. AVW 3217
Denis Peskov Mondays, 12–1PM & Thursdays, 12:30PM–1:30PM AVW 1112

University Policies and Resources

Policies relevant to Undergraduate Courses are found here: Topics that are addressed in these various policies include academic integrity, student and instructor conduct, accessibility and accommodations, attendance and excused absences, grades and appeals, copyright and intellectual property.

Course evaluations

Course evaluations are important and the department and faculty take student feedback seriously. Near the end of the semester, students can go to to complete their evaluations.


(Schedule subject to change as the semester progresses!)
# Date Topic Reading Slides Lecturer Notes
1 1/26 Introduction What the Fox Knows. pdf, pptx Dickerson Sign up on Piazza!
Part I: Data Collection, Storage, & Management
2 1/31 Scraping Data with Python Anaconda's Test Drive. pdf, pptx Dickerson PDF download script from class: link
3 2/2 NumPy, SciPy, & DataFrames Introduction to pandas. pdf, pptx Dickerson Pandas tutorials: link
4 2/7 Jupyter notebook lab Denis, Anant, & Neil Collection of Jupyter notebooks: link; Titanic dataset used in class: link
5 2/9 Best Practices for Data Science Projects Derman & Wilmott's "Financial Modelers' Manifesto." pdf, pptx Dickerson
6 2/14 Version Control, & Data Wrangling I: Tidy Data Hadley Wickham. "Tidy Data." pdf, pptx Dickerson Workflows for git: link; Hould's Tidy Data for Python
7 2/16 Data Wrangling II: SQL pdf, pptx Dickerson SQLite: link; pandasql library: link
8 2/21 Missing Data Pandas tutorial on working with missing data. pdf, pptx Dickerson Scikit-learn's imputation functionality: link
9 2/23 Exploratory Data Analysis: Summary Statistics, Transformations, & Visualization John W. Tukey: His Life and Professional Contributions. pdf, pptx Dickerson Seaborn visualization library for Python: link
10 2/28 Visualization Edward R. Tufte. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (examples.) pdf, pptx Dickerson /r/dataisbeautiful: link; (for both good and bad examples of visualization ...)
11 3/2 Graph & Network Processing pdf, pptx Dickerson NetworkX: link
12 3/7 Free Text & NLP NLTK Book. pdf, pptx Dickerson Python Natural Language Toolkit (NLTK): link; Criticisms of the Turing Test: link
Part II: Statistical Modeling, Analysis, & Machine Learning
13 3/9 Introduction to Machine Learning, & Linear Regression Hal Daumé III. A Course in Machine Learning. pdf, pptx Dickerson Scikit-learn cheat sheet: link
14 3/14 Snow Day!
15 3/16 Gradient Descent & Linear Classification pdf, pptx Dickerson Tensorflow: link
3/21 Spring Break
3/23 Spring Break
16 3/28 Tree Methods & Boosting Dickerson
17 3/30 SVMs and KNN Dickerson
18 4/4 Cross-Validation, Regularization, & Evaluation Dickerson
19 4/6 Naïve Bayes & Maximum Likelihood Estimation Dickerson
20 4/11 Hypothesis Testing Dickerson Passover–please email John if this causes problems
Intermission: Staring into the Abyss
21 4/13 Midterm
Part III: Additional & Advanced Topics
22 4/18 Dimensionality Reduction I Dickerson
23 4/20 Dimensionality Reduction II Dickerson
24 4/25 Scaling Up: Stochastic Gradient Descent Dickerson
25 4/27 Big Data & MapReduce Dickerson
26 5/2 Debugging Data Science Dickerson
27 5/4 Up in the air for now
28 5/9 Up in the air for now AAMAS
29 5/11 Up in the air for now AAMAS
Final 5/19 Final Exam Date Final versions of tuturials must be posted by 10:30AM, the exam time.

Mini-Projects né Homework

In addition to the tutorial to be posted publicly at the end of the semester, there will be four "mini-projects" assigned over the course of the semester. The best way to learn is by doing, so these will largely be applied assignments that provide hands-on experience with the basic skills a data scientist needs in industry.

Posting solutions publicly online without the staff's express consent is a direct violation of our academic integrity policy. Late assignments will not be accepted.

(Assignments will appear over the course of the semester.)
# Description Date Released Date Due Project Link
1 Fly Me To The Moon February 25 March 11 link
2 Moneyball March 11 April 2 link
3 Fact Tank March 25 April 18
4 Baltimore Crime April 14 April 29