Fortune Education: Aspiring Data Scientists: 2 Universities Announce New Master’s Programs

Originally published in Fortune Education

BY KAYLA SOLINO | April 28, 2023 | 10:24 AM

Data science is a fast-growing field with high earnings potential and as demand for qualified data scientists increases, so too are the number of educational offerings in this field. In fact, in the past month alone, two universities announced plans to launch master’s degree programs in data science.

While an advanced degree isn’t the only way to break into this field, it is a direct path to get started. And people who pursue a master’s degree in data science, one open up more job opportunities within the many available companies and industries that are looking to better leverage the data they collect.

As the need for data analysis in the workplace grows, Boston University is expanding its offerings in this field by introducing a new master’s of science in data science (MSDS) program.

“Data science is important because people are understanding now that there’s a common set of tools that you can use for investigating questions that have data at their core,” says Mark Crovella, a professor of computer science and computing and data sciences at Boston University. Crovella is also the chair of academic affairs for the faculty of computing and data sciences at Boston University. “Across all sorts of disciplines, people are recognizing that collecting data and analyzing it is valuable and crucial.”

What’s more, education may be the easiest way to meet the “huge demand” to upskill and reskill the workforce right now—especially as old sectors of the economy become more dependent on the use of data science, A.I., and machine learning, Azer Bestavros, the associate provost for computing and data sciences at Boston University, tells Fortune. “It is not practical to think that you just have to replace the workforce,” he says. “A much better way to do it is to really think about a professional master’s degree that can upskill and reskill.”

New master’s degree programs at Boston University and Virginia Tech University will add to an already robust lineup of offerings. In fact, more than 50 programs appear on Fortune’s rankings of the best online and in-person master’s in data science programs. Here’s what you need to know about the new on-campus options.

Virginia Tech University

In March, Virginia Tech University announced that it had received approval for a new master’s of science program in applied data science. Pending approval from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, the program is expected to launch in 2024.

The new degree program is intended to equip students with the necessary skills to take advantage of the growing number of job opportunities, Tom Woteki, founding director of Virginia Tech’s Academy of Data Science, said in a press release announcing the new program. Employment of professional roles for data scientists is projected to grow 36% in the next decade, more than seven times faster than the average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Roughly 13,500 jobs in the field are predicted every year until 2031.

Virginia Tech’s new master’s program will be interdisciplinary, with core courses in computer science, mathematics, and statistics and will be administered through the Academy of Data Science, housed within Virginia Tech’s College of Science. The program will also offer several concentrations, including in modeling and algorithms, geosciences, agricultural and applied economics, industrial and systems engineering, and forest resources and natural conservation.

“Because we have those concentrations, we have a number of different career pathways for students,” Woteki in the statement. “With this master’s degree, they can acquire data science skills that build on their undergraduate degrees.”

Further details on the specifics of the program, including tuition, application requirements, and course specifics are not publicly available. Virginia Tech declined to comment on the forthcoming program as it awaits approval from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

BU CDS Fortune EducationBoston University

Likewise, Boston University also announced plans in March to launch a new master’s of science program in data science for the upcoming academic year. The program is currently accepting applications until May 1 and will formally begin in September. There is no spring entry to the program offered.

The residential program is designed to suit the needs of students pursuing academic or professional data science careers. The MSDS program is a 32-credit program that can be completed in as few as nine months. Core course requirements include five competency courses, with at least one course in modeling and predictive analytics, data-centric computing, machine learning and A.I., social impact, and security and privacy.

The program applies data science to real-world issues, says Crovella.

“The curriculum includes both data science methods and foundational tools, but it also has a significant component of application to problems outside of the domain of data science specifically, so it’s intended to give students experience asking and answering questions in other domains besides data science itself,” Crovella tells Fortune. “Students can get experience working on problems in economics or other social sciences, in medical sciences, or in applications to business or even to laws.”

The new program offers two concentrations—core methods or applied methods—which will allow students to specialize in the type of data science that best suits them. Methods-focused students will tend to come from undergraduate backgrounds in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and should have an interest in developing general data science methods, while applied methods students should be interested developing and applying special-purpose data science in areas such as management, public health, and cybersecurity, per the degree website. These students may be transitioning into data science from such fields as well.

Additionally, the program offers an optional summer internship or master’s thesis course in conjunction with required course offerings, which can extend the program length to a range of 12 to 16 months. “If you really want to spend a little bit more time working with one of our faculty on research that may be relevant to your background or to the kind of job you want to get, that option is open and that’s one of the features of the program,” Bestavros says.

Applicants to the new program are expected to hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a methodological or applied discipline relating to the computational and data-driven areas of data science, according to the program website. Boston University suggests students complete several prerequisites in order to be successful in the program, including introductory programming and mathematics courses.

The application process requires applicants to submit transcripts from relevant institutions, two letters of recommendation, a CV or resume, and a personal statement. International students must submit proof of English proficiency. A GRE score is not required.

Check out all of Fortune’s rankings of degree programs, and learn more about specific career paths.

BU Faculty of Computing & Data Sciences MSDS has extended the application deadline beyond May 1.

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