School of Information launches new master’s program in data science

Since its introduction, data science has revolutionized institutions from government to academia, most recently seeping into UC Berkeley’s School of Information with the school’s launch of a new Master of Information and Data Science program.

The 27-unit program, which lasts 12 to 24 months, is designed to prepare students from a variety of fields to solve real-world problems using methods of data science. The online degree program is the only one of its kind currently in existence, according to Ray Larson, a professor in the School of Information who will instruct one of the core courses in the master’s program next semester.

Data science involves extracting meaning from data and incorporates techniques and theories from a variety of fields, including mathematics, probability models and computer programming, among others.

Larson explained that data science can be applied to any area that amasses large volumes of information, from social networking to health care. Because of today’s increasing dependence on technology for data storage, the amount of data that is produced and needs to be sifted through has expanded exponentially.

“A personal laptop can store more data now than the data systems of the Library of Congress could about 20 years ago,” Larson said.

According to Meg St. John, the director of admissions and student affairs at the School of Information, while about one-fifth of the incoming class is in technology and computer science fields, many students hail from finance, education, manufacturing and political backgrounds.

In fact, Larson explained that the program was designed to have all of its courses online so as to accommodate the diversity of students interested in the program and to avoid limiting the departments involved.
“We are currently maxed out on campus presence, but we are still growing online,” Larson said. “Having the program online also gives our students the possibility of not having to put their careers on hold.”

The curriculum for the program also includes an on-site immersion, which allows students to experience the culture of Berkeley, and a synthetic capstone final project, whose purpose is to have students integrate everything they have learned in previous semesters of the program so far.

St. John also praised the program’s capacity to attract more women in this upcoming class. Although women are known as being widely underrepresented in the STEM fields, St. John said the incoming class in the master’s program is at least 20 percent female.

Because of the field’s growing demand, a report published in 2011 by McKinsey & Company stated there will be a shortage of data scientists by 2018 in the United States.

Larson is confident of the program’s success now and into the future of data processing.

Pooja Mhatre covers research and ideas. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @pmhatre93.