You are here: The Data Sciences: Five Things to Know About Hot New Field

Contact Us

Battelle-Tompkins, Room 200

CAS Dean's Office 4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW Washington, DC 20016-8012 United States

Back to top


The Data Sciences: Five Things You Need to Know Degrees in Data Science leading to exciting careers.

By  | 

Data scientist standing in front of screen with data.

"This hot new field promises to revolutionize industries from business to government, health care to academia." —The New York Times

Information is the power to influence the world, and maybe even change it. And facts and figures—data sets—are key. People with the right skills and training, who can interpret complex data, are highly sought after and compensated in all sectors of the job market.

Here are five things you should know about the Data Sciences and the Data Sciences graduate programs at American University:

1) Data Science grads have great careers.

Data scientists are in demand, and that demand is only growing. Wages in mathematics and computer-related fields outpace wages in other occupations, and their career outlooks show consistent growth. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says economists earned a median pay of $101,050 in 2016. Mathematicians and statisticians have a median salary of $81,950. Computer and information research scientists make $111,840. On top of this, data scientists are overwhelmingly satisfied with their careers. According to a 2016 comprehensive study by data enrichment firm CrowdFlower, more than 90 percent of data scientists surveyed said they were happy doing their work, with 35 percent of respondents giving it a five on a scale of 1-5, and 47 percent giving it a four.

2) Data science is the hot new field.

Data scientists apply the scientific method to various problems in order to make predictions, offer solutions, and optimize processes. To do this, they must have very specific skills, which are developed through experience and education. The field of data science is so new that the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not yet include it as an occupation. However, big data is exploding right now, creating unprecedented opportunities for job-seekers with the education and ability to turn data into knowledge. Three of the top five emerging jobs listed by LinkedIn in 2017 were big data positions: machine learning engineer, data scientist, and big data developer. The demand for data scientists has risen over 650 percent since 2012, and the supply of candidates cannot keep up with the demand.

3) Big data is creating huge changes in all sectors.

Data science is being used in every industry that generates data, giving graduates in the data sciences a wide array of fields to work in. It has applications in business, e-commerce, energy, entertainment, manufacturing, media, science, security, social networking, telecommunications, travel, politics, and public utilities. In government, data scientists inform policy decisions and help agencies better serve constituents. Data science is used in healthcare fields to facilitate evidence-based medicine, improve patient care, and detect disease outbreaks. In finance, big data is analyzed to determine risks and make economic projections. Environmental scientists use data science to understand the impact of human activity on the planet. In business environments, data scientists help businesses improve efficiency and increase sales. Across public, private, and nonprofit sectors, big data is making a huge difference, and those with the right education and skills can be part of leading that change.

4) Data scientists do amazing things that already affect your life.

The data sciences take high-level mathematics into the real world with profound applications that you can already see. Online, data science is used to power search engines, create targeted marketing, and improve customer experiences by predicting their preferences. Machine learning algorithms are used in gaming, and data science is behind comparison shopping engines that get you the best prices on travel and retail products across competing websites.

Delivery services use data science to optimize shipping routes, increase efficiency, predict demand, and lower cost. Airlines use data science to improve and streamline operations, optimize dynamic pricing, and schedule crews and aircraft. Data science helps banks determine what products to offer which customers. The EPA uses big data for environmental models and risk assessments that protect the planet. Big data and the data sciences are already creating new possibilities all around you, and for those with training in the data sciences, these possibilities are endless.

5) Graduate study is your way in.

In an analysis of 1001 data scientists’ profiles, 365DataScience found that 75 percent of data scientists have a PhD (27 percent) or a master’s degree (48 percent). These degrees are clustered in five fields: computer science (20 percent), statistics and mathematics (19 percent), economics and social sciences (19 percent), data science and analysis (13 percent), and the natural sciences (11 percent). These are the same disciplines taught in AU's data science cluster. The BLS concurs that a master’s degree is the typical level of education for entry-level workers in the data sciences. A data science graduate certificate, comparable to half a master’s degree but highly focused on data science training, can be used by working professionals as a standalone credential in the field or can be earned in conjunction with math or science master’s degrees, providing both data science training and an area of specialized expertise in which to apply these skills.