May 23, 2016

NASA Helps Launch Data Science Grad Program

George Leopold

Another U.S. university is adding a data science specialization to its curriculum, this one as part of an online Masters of Science degree in engineering. The University of California at Riverside said the data science track was developed in collaboration with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) science staff.

The partners said the data science program is aimed at engineers, scientists along with medical and social media professionals seeking to expand their training in data mining, data visualization, machine learning and statistical computing. The graduate program will be offered through UC-Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering. Engineering faculty along with JPL’s science staff developed the multidisciplinary program.

“The online Master’s program in the data science specialization will equip students with the knowledge needed for a career in data analytics,” Bahram Mobasher, a UC-Riverside physics and astronomy professor who oversees a university big data program, noted in a statement. “Students will then be ready to move to various jobs in government labs, industry or academia.”

Launched in 2013, the online master program is being expanded to offer six specializations: data science, bioengineering, electrical engineering, environmental engineering, materials at the nanoscale and mechanical engineering. Organizers said the course material for the online master’s program is equivalent to the traditional graduate program, but with a greater emphasis on technical skills rather than research.

Given the growing popularity of big data crash courses and boot camps, the cost of a graduate degree in big data is going up. UC-Riverside said individual courses run $3,333 per course, or $30,000 for the nine-course online program.

Among the reasons why advanced degrees in data science are growing in popularity are the relatively high starting salaries for data specialists, especially when compared to starting jobs in IT. The university cited industry statistics estimating that data visualization specialist start out making $80,000 annually while advancing to as high as $100,000. Meanwhile, data scientists can enter the field at an estimated $100,000 and eventually make as much as $130,000 a year.

Technology and financial services companies along with agencies like NASA are increasingly sponsoring graduate-level data science programs to help fill a growing skills gap. For example, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst launched its Center for Data Science recently began offering a master’s degree. The school has raised $100 million to hire 40 new faculty members over the next decade, doubling its current faculty.

Along with funding from the National Science Foundation, companies like Amazon, Google, HP Enterprise and Microsoft are contributing to the initiative along with government contractors like Booz Allen and media companies such as Thomson Reuters.

The UMass data science research effort is also structured “to get more industry involved, because that’s what industry is really looking for, lots of different connections with the university,” said Steve Vinter, site and engineering director at Google.

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