Data Science is Important

Guest Correspondence

BY DONAL O'SHEA SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY DEC 12, 2015

Something strange happened two decades ago. Large collaborative science projects such as the search for the Higgs boson, the Hubble and Sloan deep sky surveys and the human genome project began producing more data each year than the entire contents of the Library of Congress. An early side effect of the first was the invention of the World Wide Web. Since then, the ubiquity of sensing devices, the internet, social media, big science and high quality computers has produced even more massive data sets. Large intellectual and economic rewards accrue to companies and entities with the ability to effectively manipulate and analyze such data.   

The term “data science” was coined to describe the mix of analytic and technical skills involved in the analysis of large data sets and there is no shortage of reports documenting the need for data scientists. A current snapshot of open job positions in data science from the website “simplyhired.com” includes: 4,867 jobs within 100 miles of Sarasota, 10,109 jobs in Florida, and 315,316 jobs nationwide. Colleges and universities have begun to respond to the need. Last year, six large universities, including Columbia and Ohio State, launched master’s programs in data science to fill the gap in employment. The program at North Carolina State reports an application acceptance rate of 12.8 percent for 2013-14, and 100 percent subsequent employment with a median base salary of $96,000.

New College has just begun to recruit its first class for our new master’s in Data Science program. The first students will start in February 2016 and another cohort will enter in late August 2016. While most liberal arts institutions offer scattered elements of a data science program, none offers anything remotely similar to New College’s program. However, a liberal arts college with a strong interdisciplinary focus is a particularly good place in which to offer a data science graduate program. Good programs require that students have about two-thirds of a math major, two-thirds of a computer science major and two-thirds of a statistics major. At research universities, these disciplines are offered in separate schools, making it difficult for students to acquire highly interdisciplinary technical skills.   

Moreover, local and national companies have agreed to share some of their data with us for classroom and project analysis. They will offer paid internships to our students, integrating them into their own industry data teams during the fourth and final semester of the program. This will ensure that graduates of the new program are not only technically adept, but also skilled in working with others on projects as a team. This will enable students and companies to get to know each other.  

Best of all, the new program will provide companies in Florida with highly skilled workers to tackle big data analysis here. They will no longer be forced to outsource these functions elsewhere. The program will drive new innovation between the business and education communities. It will provide another locus around which local higher educational institutions can collaborate to support our region’s emergent information and entrepreneurial economy. Stay tuned.

Donal O'Shea is president of New College of Florida.

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