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Data Science – is it the Masters of the future?

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From the dawn of civilisation up until 2003, we created something close to five exabytes of data. Now, we create that much information in just two days, according to former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

The age of data is here. From Facebook comments to tweets to Instagram stories, the sheer amount of online content is revolutionising industries and businesses. Data is “the new oil” that powers how we personalise marketing, improve healthcare, predict political revolutions, profile customers, fight crime and even create art.

“Data Science is a critical function of the modern digital world. It links together industries, sectors disciplines, and societies,” explained professor of data science Mark Elliot.

Yet while the value of, and the industry demand for data scientists is expanding exponentially – the UK is said to need 52,000 data scientists – the higher education sphere is, by comparison, moving at a glacial pace. A critical issue is the over-focus on purely technical skills which both appeal to only a small subset of potential data scientists and do not fully equip students to tackle the issues that data scientists face in running, and leading, data science projects.

The University of Manchester where Professor Elliot teaches, bucks this trend with its newly launched MSc in Data Science, an interdisciplinary programme that welcomes applicants with backgrounds in a wide range of disciplines. From business professionals to experts in geography, Manchester is where they can obtain training in core data science and develop computational, data analytical, data stewardship, teamworking, and project design skills.


The one-year programme begins with compulsory units in machine learning, statistics, databases, data husbandry – all of which are  then put into application and supplemented by classes in professional skills and practice.In the following semester, students specialise in one of five pathways – Applied Urban Analytics, Computer Science Data Informatics, Management and Business, Mathematics, Social Analytics – and then write a final dissertation.

“The skills that data science graduates obtain through education and then through application and continued development in their working lives will make them resilient to and indeed thrive on the inevitable impact of disruptive change” said Professor Elliot, who is also The University of Manchester’s course director.

It will be a study experience surrounded and supported by the best minds in the nation. Last November, Manchester announced it would be a partner at The Alan Turing Institute, joining the founding universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Oxford, Warwick, and UCL.

Turing, a Manchester alum, is the man behind the Turing test, an attempt to define a standard for a machine to be called “intelligent”. The idea was that a computer could be said to “think” if it could fool an interrogator into believing that the conversation was with a human.

Joining the institute opens more doors for students and researchers at Manchester to collaborate with private, public and third sector organisations in ambitious and impactful on data science.

Nurturing the aspiration, skills and professional agility to generate real change through data…

Dubbed the “sexiest job of the 21st century” by Harvard Business Review, it’s no surprise that the career pathways for data science graduates are many and varied.

To assume that this qualification will funnel one into a life comprising solely of applying algorithm and analysing data for industrial and commercial use is to underestimate the potential of data science skills in today’s world.

Data scientists are the new key player in a rapidly growing list of 21st century organisations. There are big data opportunities in just about any company; with multiple petabytes of data waiting to be mined for the benefit of the firm. For now, the data scientist – a hybrid of data hacker, analyst, communicator, and trusted adviser – holds a powerful and rare list of skills on his or her CV.

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Armed with the ability to write code and merged with an intense curiosity to solve problems (the top skill employers around the world want, as this study found), it’s no wonder then that their salaries are bidding upwards. Forbes reported that the median base salaries range from US$95,000 (0 – 3 years of experience) to US$165,000 (9+ years) for individual contributors and from US$145,000 (1 – 3 reports) to US$250,000 (10+ reports) for managers.

The scope of employability of graduates with data science skills spans far and wide, according to Professor Elliot. Apart from gaining direct employment within the industry, government, or the third sector, Manchester’s data science Masters graduates gain the potential to be the leading managers of tomorrow too.

“It is becoming increasingly important for managers to have these skills as the people they are managing will be increasingly required to operate digitally and to deliver data science,” Professor Elliot explained.

“By providing an inherently interdisciplinary and collaborative experience, we will particularly equip our students to take advantage of such opportunities.”

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