Big data a big deal: SFU 2016 President’s Dream Colloquium

January 05, 2016

By Ian Bryce

Canadians experience and interact with big data on a daily basis. Some interactions are as simple as buying coffee or as complex as filling out the Canadian government’s mandatory long-form census. But, while big data may be one of the most important technological and social shifts in the past five years, many experts are still grappling with what to do with the massive amounts of information being gathered every day.

To help understand the implications of collecting, analyzing and using big data, Simon Fraser University is launching the President’s Dream Colloquium on Engaging Big Data on Tuesday, January 5.

“Big data affects all sectors of society from governments to businesses to institutions to everyday people,” says Peter Chow-White, SFU  professor of communication. “This colloquium brings together people from industry and scholars in computing and social sciences in a dialogue around one of the most important innovations of our time next to the Internet.”

This year marks the first President’s Dream Colloquium where all faculty and guest lectures will be available to the public. The speaker series will give a historical overview of big data, specific case studies on its use today, and future implications for business, health and government.

The series includes notable guest speakers such as Surajit Chaudhuri, managing director of Microsoft Research, and Pat Hanrahan, co-founder of Tableau.  

“Pat Hanrahan is a leader in a number of sectors and Tableau is a leader in accessing big data through visual analytics,” says Chow-White.

“Rather than big data being available to only a small amount of professionals, Tableau makes it easier for everyday people to access and understand it in a visual way.”


  • Sasha Issenberg, author and journalist
    Tuesday, January 12, 2016
  • Surajit Chaudhuri, scientist and managing director of XCG (Microsoft Research) 
    Tuesday, January 19, 2016
  • Pat Hanrahan, professor at the Stanford Computer Graphics Laboratory; co-founder and chief scientist, Tableau; founding member of Pixar
    Wednesday, February 3, 2016
  • Sheelagh Carpendale, professor of Computing Science University of Calgary, Canada Research Chair in Information Visualization
    Tuesday, February 23, 2016, 3:30pm
  • Colin HillCEO of GNS Healthcare
    Tuesday, March 8, 2016
  • Chad Skelton, award-winning data journalist and consultant 
    Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The speaker series is free to attend with registration. Lectures will be webcast live and available on the President’s Dream Colloquium website.