Data science major, minor likely to be available within academic year

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Anissa Nishioka/Staff

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For many classes, questions asked on “syllabus day” — the first lecture of the semester — relate to administrative issues or course policies. For Data 8, however, a student asked in the very first class whether the major would be ready to declare in the near future.

Students interested in practical applications of coding and statistics have long awaited the creation of a data science major and minor. The data science program, a coming addition to the College of Letters and Science, will likely be open to declare within this academic school year, according to program coordinator Anthony Suen.

David Culler, the interim dean of data sciences, said he plans to have a proposal for the data science major submitted for approval this semester. He added that a sequence of multidisciplinary faculty committees have been debating the proposal.

According to Culler, the program will first appear in the College of Letters and Science before it will be available to the College of Engineering and possibly to other colleges as well.

Throughout the planning process, Culler and his team considered the prerequisites of similar majors and how switching to data science or adding it as a double major or minor might work. Culler said that once the program is implemented, students may major in data science with an emphasis, major in another field and minor in data science or double major.

“(We’re) designing it (to) attend to student flexibility, instead of a very stretched sequence,” Culler said. “We want categories with choices within the categories.”

Culler said he and his team were inspired to develop the major after they heard from the industry that more data science professionals are needed in the field. In the summer of 2014, a faculty panel was created to decide how to create the campus program.

In its first semester, Data 8, otherwise known as Computer Science C8, had only 109 students enrolled in the course, according to Culler. Data 8 is now in its fifth semester, and a total of 965 students are enrolled in the course.

Culler said the graduate student instructors for Data 8 are chosen from many different departments and many are new GSIs.

“They’ve spent a lot of time and effort to help develop the program, whether it be developing technology, working toward diversity or inclusion, or more on the administrative side of it,” Culler said.

Campus junior Natalia Mushegian, a molecular environmental biology major, took Data 8 and now assists in lab as an undergraduate student instructor for the class. Mushegian said that when she took data classes, faculty said her graduating class could declare the major — she considered it, but ultimately chose another path.

“I could still be holding out for it — they kept saying my year could major in it. I definitely considered it,” Mushegian said. “The fact that division of data science exists is promising. … I’m super interested in doing the minor if it exists, (but) it seems less fleshed out.”

Although she will not declare the major, Mushegian said she believes Data 8 was a valuable introduction to statistics with a more intuitive learning structure. She said she encourages any potential data science majors to to take Data 8 and “take (it) seriously” because it is immediately applicable to other fields.

Alexander Ivanoff, a student lead of one of the student teams that maintain the inner workings of Data 8, said the class is designed for people who are curious about what data science is but may not feel comfortable exploring it on their own.

“It’s not learning codes and stats — it’s learning some skills in context,” Ivanoff said.

Ella Jensen is the lead student life reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ellajensen_dc.