New Degree

WPI to offer state’s first graduate program in data science

November 21, 2013
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Recognizing the growing demand for true data scientists―professionals capable of analyzing and uncovering the value in large data for a wide range of businesses and government entities―WPI has established the first graduate program in data science in Massachusetts.

The interdisciplinary program will be offered jointly by faculty members in the departments of computer science and mathematical sciences, and the School of Business. Applications are now being accepted for fall 2014.

According to Elke Rundensteiner, computer science professor and director of the new program, data science imparts students with interdisciplinary skills such as the ability to recognize problems that can be solved with data analytics, apply the appropriate technologies to specific issues, and communicate those solutions effectively to relevant stakeholders.

An information session, featuring a guest speaker, will be held today at 4 p.m. in the Rubin Campus Center’s Hagglund Room. Pizza and soft drinks will be provided, and there will be a raffle for an Amazon Kindle and other prizes.

“Technological advances in devices, software, networking, and other technologies give rise to digital data rich in variety, volume, velocity, and complexity,” she says.  “This data represents an exceptional opportunity to harvest and extract insights important for competitive businesses and innovation, health, science, engineering, and societal well-being.”

Rundensteiner adds that because all sectors of industry and government must utilize data analytics to update their business approaches, demand for data scientists is skyrocketing. She cited an Education Advisory Board report that she said shows the number of data science–related job postings increased 58 percent nationally from the first half of 2010 to the second half of 2012.

“The need and opportunities for graduates of this program is tremendous, with very strong markets for data science positions in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Pacific West; in financial centers of New York City and Boston; in technology centers in the West, such as San Jose and San Francisco; in national security interests in the Washington, DC, area; and the healthcare industry centers of Atlanta and Boston,” she says.

Graduates of the WPI program, with its strong interdisciplinary focus, will have a clear competitive advantage over professionals who are trained in a single discipline, such as business administration, statistics, or computer science, Rundensteiner believes.

She adds that the best candidates for the program are students and professionals with strong quantitative and computational backgrounds, and “anyone who would enjoy leveraging data to predict trends and justify important decisions in their field based on real evidence derived from big data.”

Graduates of the WPI program will have a clear competitive advantage over professionals who are trained in a single discipline.

Students in the program can pursue an MS, combined BS/MS, or graduate certificates. An undergraduate degree may be added at some point, based on industrial feedback and demonstrated need.

“WPI has started with a degree at the graduate level because we can leverage the exceptional training already given to our undergraduate students in terms of computational and quantitative skills, and project and business experience” she explains.

Data scientists will be needed by virtually all industries and throughout government, according to Rundensteiner. “Any field in which huge amounts of digital data are being generated―such as business transactions, social media, health and fitness monitoring, and scientific data sets―needs data scientists.”

She noted that a master’s tuition incentive program, which allows WPI alumni to enroll as full-time students in an MS degree program and register for as many as 18 credits each semester while paying for only nine, will be offered.

- By Mike D’Onofrio