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October 26, 2018

UC-Berkeley Expands Data Science 101

It is becoming increasingly obvious to college undergraduates that entering the data science field may be the quickest way to find a job in their field after graduation.

The University of California at Berkeley, long a hotbed for data science and big data innovation, including a growing list of successful spinoffs, reports that undergraduate students are flocking to its new data science major introduced this fall. The university’s Division of Data Science recently announced that 780 undergraduate students filed “pre-declarations” for a data science major as soon as they were made available.

The new major emphasizes “statistical and mathematical depth” as well as breadth in the form of domain specialization in areas ranging from biodiversity to economics. The data science program also places a premium on “societal awareness” of the “human context in which data are applied.”

With those considerations in mind, the Cal data science curricula is being structured to apply those analytics skills to a new set of disciplines. For example, the data science curriculum design team includes a Berkeley history professor.

That structure would support double majors based on the assumption there is ample overlap between data analytics skills and, say, unearthing a nugget in a history archives as more material is digitized and made searchable.

The university said about 1,300 undergraduate students are currently enrolled in its introductory “Foundations of Data Science” class. Half are women, and university majors from economic to English are represented.

Meanwhile, nearly 800 undergraduate students are enrolled in a “bridge” data science course required to proceed to advanced course work.

Given the popularity of its data science curriculum, the university said it will introduce a data science minor next year “to give an ever-larger group of students the opportunity to build data science skills.”

The UC-Berkeley data science program is among the pace-setters in an exploding field. Demand for data science courses has prompted other state universities in California to offer free online classes.

As demand for data science skills continues to outstrip supply, technology companies such as IBM (NYSE: IBM) and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) along with data-driven companies like Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. have bankrolled new graduate-level data science programs.

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