NY Times Taps Prof. Wiggins as Chief Data Scientist

Jan 31 2014 | By Holly Evarts | Photo: Eileen Barroso

Chris Wiggins, associate professor of applied mathematics, has just been appointed to an exciting new role at The New York Times: chief data scientist.

Chris Wiggins

This new role is one of several for Wiggins, who is also a member of Columbia’s Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering, a founding member of the University’s Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics (C2B2), and co-founder of hackNY. “The New York Times is creating a machine learning group to help learn from data about the content it produces and the way readers consume and navigate that content,” says Wiggins. ”As a highly trafficked site with a broad diversity of typical user patterns, the New York Times has a tremendous opportunity to listen to its readers at web scale.”

"Data science in general and machine learning in particular are becoming central to the way we understand our customers and improve our products," adds Marc Frons, chief information officer of The New York Times. "We're thrilled to have Chris leading that effort."

Wiggins, whose activities at Columbia range from bioinformatics to mentoring activities to keep students off “the street” (Wall) by helping them join New York City’s exploding tech startup community, focuses his research on applications of machine learning to real-world data.

“The dominant challenges in science and in business are becoming more and more data science challenges,” Wiggins explains. “Solving these problems and training the next generation of data scientists is at the heart of the mission of Columbia’s Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering.”

In creating the Institute, the University is drawing upon its extraordinary strengths in interdisciplinary research: nine schools across Columbia are collaborating on a broad range of research projects. Wiggins and his colleagues at the Engineering School are integrating mathematical, statistical, and computer science advances with a broad range of fields: “We’re enabling better health care, smarter cities, more secure communications, and developing the future of journalism and media.”

The Institute is already having a dramatic impact on the local economy, and is expected to generate $3.9 billion in economic activity for New York City over the next 30 years, helping to address the immense shortages predicted for both technical and management talent in data sciences and seeding the City’s rapidly growing tech startup community with its strong emphasis on entrepreneurship.

“This is an important and exciting appointment for both Chris and the Institute,” notes Kathleen McKeown, director of the Institute and Henry and Gertrude Rothschild Professor of Computer Science. “Working with The New York Times demonstrates how Columbia faculty care both about advancing data science as a field and engaging with important New York City companies to help our city’s economy.”