Dear Commons Community,
New academic programs in big data, analytics and data science are mushrooming around the country. In the fall, Columbia will offer new master’s and certificate programs on data analytics. The University of San Francisco will soon graduate its charter class of students with a master’s in analytics. Other institutions expanding data science programs include New York University, Stanford, Northwestern, George Mason, Syracuse, University of California at Irvine and Indiana University. The New York Times interviewed several individuals associated with Columbia University’s program:
“Rachel Schutt, a senior research scientist at Johnson Research Labs, taught “Introduction to Data Science” last semester at Columbia (its first course with “data science” in the title). She described the data scientist this way: “a hybrid computer scientist software engineer statistician.” And added: “The best tend to be really curious people, thinkers who ask good questions and are O.K. dealing with unstructured situations and trying to find structure in them.”
Eurry Kim, a 30-year-old “wannabe data scientist,” is studying at Columbia for a master’s in quantitative methods in the social sciences and plans to use her degree for government service. She discovered the possibilities while working as a corporate tax analyst at the Internal Revenue Service. She might, for example, analyze tax return data to develop algorithms that flag fraudulent filings, or cull national security databases to spot suspicious activity.
Some of her classmates are hoping to apply their skills to e-commerce, where data about users’ browsing history is gold.
“This is a generation of kids that grew up with data science around them — Netflix telling them what movies they should watch, Amazon telling them what books they should read — so this is an academic interest with real-world applications,” said Chris Wiggins, a professor of applied mathematics at Columbia who is involved in its new Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering. “And,” he added, “they know it will make them employable.”
Universities can hardly turn out data scientists fast enough. To meet demand from employers, the United States will need to increase the number of graduates with skills handling large amounts of data by as much as 60 percent, according to a report by McKinsey Global Institute. There will be almost half a million jobs in five years, and a shortage of up to 190,000 qualified data scientists, plus a need for 1.5 million executives and support staff who have an understanding of data.