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New AU Master’s Degree Program Prepares Students for Number One Job in the U.S.

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The demand for data scientists is “astronomical and growing,” according to Jeff Gill, distinguished professor at the AU School of Public Affairs (SPA) and the director of the school's new Center for Data Science. Data scientist has been ranked the number one job in America for the last three consecutive years, with a median base salary of $120,931. A 28 percent increase in data science jobs has been predicted by 2020.

This week, SPA and the AU College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) together will launch a new Master of Science in Data Science degree program to prepare students for this expanding field. Gill and Jane Wall, assistant professor in the CAS Department of Mathematics and Statistics, will serve as the program’s co-directors. Classes start in the fall.

Although the 20th century was intellectually marked by advances in engineering, physics, and chemistry, Gill said data experts can help social sciences push research forward.

“The 21st century is the data century — there is no dispute about that,” said Gill, who has a partial appointment in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics and helped design the curriculum. “The rapid change in computing resources will lead to gigantic leaps in intellectual progress and discoveries in business, economics, sociology, psychology, political science, and related fields.”

At its core, the new program will cover statistical methods and programming, regression, statistical machine learning, and political analysis. Also part of the curriculum is R, a programming language and free software environment for statistical computing and graphics. Each student will take a base curriculum of statistics and computational courses then choose an applied specialty track from fields such as economics, business, political science, and environmental science. As the program matures, other tracks will be added to take advantage of expertise from across the university.

"I can't think of a single discipline that doesn't benefit from data science," said Wall. "No matter what your passion might be, you can always add data science skills and be that much more valuable to your employer."

The program is expected to appeal to working professionals looking to add to their skill sets as well as recent college graduates and current students in the AU Graduate Certificate Program for Data Science. The certificate program, which Wall started in 2017, received an overwhelmingly positive response. As a result, it has become the technical core for the new MS in Data Science degree program.

Upon completion, graduates will have high-tech skills, but Gill said the data science master’s degree is designed to have a “gentle on-ramp” to attract those with humanities degrees as well as more tech-oriented students. It is uniquely positioned between AU’s data business analytics program and master’s program in statistics. It will include a capstone experience working in a consulting lab for hands-on experience on a variety of projects.

Gill and Wall credit the support of SPA Dean Vicky Wilkins and CAS Dean Peter Starr, along with many faculty members across the university, with working together to introduce the new program.

Discussion of an MS in Data Science program goes back about three years, but plans coalesced following Gill’s arrival last year. He came to SPA from Washington University in St. Louis in the fall of 2017 and was on leave in the spring working at Harvard University. He studies people through biomedical and social science research. Gill’s current applied research ranges from the development of synthetic blood to pediatric trauma brain injuries to terrorism.

Wall’s background is in computational neuroscience, and her research interests include machine learning and data ethics. She is interested in how data science has a broad range of applications, from music to medicine—and everything in between.

Learn more about the program or apply today.