Data Science students accepted into prestigious universities

Three Data Science students are leaving for prestigious universities this year after completing their bachelor's degree. The fact that they were accepted there speaks not only to their own abilities, but also to the quality of the bachelor’s program, they think, which is of course good news for TU/e. However, it also means that the students will not be staying in Eindhoven for their master’s degrees, even though that is the very thing the university is actively trying to encourage.

It feels bittersweet, Mark van den Brand admits. He is the program director at the Eindhoven side of the joint TU/e and Tilburg University bachelor’s program. “Of course I’m proud that they managed to get into excellent study programs. For us, it’s a confirmation that the program prepares students for a new step in their career. On the other hand, we also want students to stay here at TU/e for their master’s program, so I’m sorry to see them go.” Ironically, he himself is part of a working group dedicated to retaining students, he adds, laughing.

What could he have done to stop them? “I don’t want to stop them at all. On the contrary, we should encourage students to be ambitious. And in the long term, they are ambassadors for our program.” The students agree. This year, Hanna Broszczak, Leander Huyghe and Asfandyar Azhar will all complete their bachelor’s degrees and leave for Imperial College London, the University of Cambridge and Carnegie Mellon University, respectively (see main photo). Other than the fact that the quality of the program is apparently high enough to qualify for these universities, they say there are more factors that contributed to their success. For example, they have had plenty of opportunity to develop themselves outside their studies at TU/e, Azhar points out. He himself set up the association Break the Algo, whose members push each other to set the bar high and challenge themselves.


Huyghe and Broszczak also managed to make time for extra activities in addition to their studies. That alone is an admirable feat, says Steffie van den Bosch, who will be the director on the Tilburg side of the program as of next year. “Data Science is a challenging, full-time study program which already demands a lot from students. If you manage to do extra-curricular activities on top of that, then that says something about you.” That is why her predecessor also mentioned the extra activities in the recommendation letters she wrote for the students. But there is no doubt that high grades, ambition, personality and communication skills were also important criteria in their application, she adds. According to her, it was beyond question that these students possessed all of the above.

To get into master’s programs with very low acceptance rates, students had to do more than just send recommendation letters. Especially for Azhar and Huyghe, the process to get accepted proved to be more extensive than expected. Huyghe: “It takes more than high grades to create a distinctive profile of yourself. In addition to extra-curricular activities, these kinds of universities also expect to see research output, and the application process alone is already a lot of work. We had to write several letters and take standardized tests; it was definitely more than I expected.”

Personal story

Azhar went through a similar process for nine different master’s programs. He set his sights on American universities, which he says place extra value on well-grounded motivations. Especially the personal aspect was important in those motivations, which worked to his advantage because he has a good story to tell. “In 2019, I underwent major back surgery because I was diagnosed with a rare congenital defect. By applying AI and machine learning to the medical field, I want to do my part to help increase our understanding of the condition and improve the diagnosis process in the future.” His story proved successful at the University of Chicago and Carnegie Mellon.

For Broszczak, the process was easier because she had her sights set very specifically on Imperial College in London and would only start other applications after a potential rejection. She was accepted into an online part-time master’s program in Machine Learning and Data Science that will allow the Polish native to go back to Warsaw, where she plans to explore various career options through internships, for example. Exactly which direction that career will take, she is not sure yet. “There are so many paths to explore.” The fact that Data Science is a joint program of Tilburg University and TU/e helped her build a broad foundation, enabling her to pursue any of those paths.


It is one of the program’s strengths, Van den Brand believes. “Because of this partnership, it really is a challenging program. We truly demand the utmost from students. In Eindhoven they take technical courses and in Tilburg they learn about the ethical, legal and business aspects of data science. If you take up that challenge as a student and still manage to go beyond that, you will have the same success as these three students.” According to him, therein lies the key to “preventing” these types of students from leaving TU/e after their bachelor’s degree in the future. “We have to make sure that we continue to offer challenging master's programs ourselves, making it attractive enough for students to just stay here.” Whether the students will ever return to TU/e as PhD candidates or postdocs they do not yet know. “But we will always keep promoting the university,” Huyghe assures the program directors. And Broszczak agrees. “I’ve already convinced friends from Poland to come here for their studies. They are in their second year.” This way, she was able to somewhat fill the gap she left behind.

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