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What is DataFest

The American Statistical Association (ASA) DataFest is an annual competition in which teams of undergraduates work around the clock to find and share meaning in a large, rich, and complex data set.

Previous years’ data sets have included pro bono legal advice data from the American Bar Association, sports data from the Canadian National Women’s Rugby Team, ticket sales data from TicketMaster, travel data from Expedia, and employment data from Indeed. This year’s data set will be revealed at the opening of the event on Friday evening, March 15. 

DataFest allows for a unique collaboration between academics and industry, and students are presented real-world data that is of current interest to a company/organization and given the relevant context. This is a great experience for students as it exposes them to the use of data outside the academic setting as well as gives them a chance to meet people who work with data in such settings.

A vital feature of the event is that it brings together the data science community.  At DataFest, students do the work, but they are assisted by roving consultants who are faculty and industry professionals. At the end of the 48 hours, teams compete in front of a panel of judges from a variety of fields for prizes in categories ranging from Best Insight, Best Visualization, and Best Use of External Data.

ASA DataFest has proliferated over the past few years, and this year, parallel events are being held at 54 other locations with participation from a total of 106 colleges and universities. We are happy to be among the ranks. Further details of the event, as well as recaps of past DataFests, can be found on the ASA’s webpage

Students work in teams on a surprise data analysis challenge and present their findings at the end. At all times, there will be friendly consultants present to help them. Then, a panel of judges determines winners in various categories.

In the event, there will be one main question the data sponsor is interested in finding an answer to. However, DataFest participants can use the given data to investigate whatever they want. They have complete autonomy regarding how they approach and analyze the problem, which can be both exciting and intimidating. Because the stakes are low (e.g., no grades) and the rewards are high (e.g., prizes are awarded, DataFest participation is excellent on a résumé, and it is a fantastic experience to talk on the job interviews), students generate risky yet creative ideas to solve the problem. They will have the opportunity to do open-ended data analysis.

At the opening seromony on Friday evening, we present the data and the outlines of the challenge. Throughout the weekend, teams analyze the data. On Sunday at 1:30, they present their results to a panel of judges. Teams have 5 minutes and 3 slides to make their case. Along with their presentation, they also turn in a one-page write-up so that judges can refer to it during deliberation. Winners will receive achievement certificates, 1-year American Statistics Association student membership, and surprise gifts.

DataFest is a competition but a friendly one, so collaboration between teams is not only allowed but highly encouraged.

This year, parallel events are being held with participation from more than 100 colleges and universities. Each participating college hosts the event during the period that begins with the first weekend in March and ends with the last weekend in April. We must keep the data source secret until after the last ASA DataFest event (April 28, 2024).