Published: Dec. 9, 2022
Photo of John

Whether he’s living off-grid, running a tugboat, or traveling the world, current Coursera student John McKay chose the CU Boulder MS-DS On Coursera program because it allowed him to earn his degree from anywhere. Whether he is analyzing forecasted surf conditions to learning about the environment through data, the program allows him to combine a variety of his interests. Most recently, he has been working on a data mining project looking at the movement of the front lines of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Below, he shares his experience and advice for prospective students. 
When did you first enroll in the MS-DS program on the Coursera platform?
I enrolled in the first session available, I believe May 2021.
Can you tell us about your educational and work experience background before you enrolled in this program?
I studied physics and astronomy at a Canadian university. I worked with several nuclear physics research groups, where I did both computational modeling (theory) and experimental nuclear physics.
What initially drew you to this program?
I moved to a very remote community during the pandemic, far from any university where I could study. I wanted to be able to pursue a master's degree while still living in an environment where I could take advantage of the access to the wild parts of the country I love so much. The CU Boulder MSDS program allows me to study anywhere, whether I'm at an off-grid cabin, a ship at sea or traveling the world.
Can you tell me how the MS-DS on Coursera program fits into your life?
It's the same answer as the previous question, really. I work part-time as the skipper of a tugboat in very remote parts of the country. The MS-DS program lets me work on the boat during the day, and then do my studies in the evening.
What are your favorite parts of the program?
I really have enjoyed the project-based parts of the courses, like the tool I developed in DTSA 5304 which visualized the forecast surf conditions for a business in my town.
What do you hope to do with your MS-DS degree?
I would like to collaborate with non-profits and research organizations. I have wide ranging interests, including environmental projects here on the west coast of Canada; data journalism, especially conflict journalism (e.g. Ukraine, Afghanistan, etc); and motorsport (race strategy, etc). 
Would you recommend this program to others?
I think that the program is great for people that are highly self-disciplined and independent.
What’s one tip you have for students who are starting this program?
Get involved in the Slack group! It's nice to get to know some students in your cohort and they will almost certainly have similar questions to you!