Published: Feb. 24, 2021

As more data becomes available, companies are finding innovative ways to use it to inform their decisions—from targeted marketing (think Netflix recommendations) to health care trendspotting to autonomous driving vehicles. Data scientists are the people who make it happen.

“Working with data is both exhilarating and challenging. When I get the data to tell a story, I feel like I’ve won,” said Jane Wall, the recently appointed faculty director of CU Boulder’s new master’s in data science program.

Data scientists understand and analyze data to summarize and predict behaviors. “Perhaps the most important part of the job is communicating the results of the analysis,” Wall said. “The huge amounts of data that are available have amazing stories to tell us. We just need to know how to dig them out,” she said.

Almost every industry and discipline uses the cutting-edge field of data science. Employee satisfaction is high in the data science field, which has many job openings. For those considering a degree in data science, the return on investment is good, as the average annual salary for data scientists in the United States is $113,309, according to Glassdoor. 

CU Boulder’s new master’s degree in data science emphasizes all aspects of the field, including ethical considerations, communication and application knowledge, along with statistics and computer science. The vision for an interdisciplinary program grew out of cross-campus collaboration with the Office for Academic Innovation; the College of Arts and Sciences; the College of Engineering and Applied Science; the College of Media, Communication, and Information; and the Graduate School.

The new master’s in data science program is housed in the Graduate School because of its interdisciplinary nature. Until Wall’s arrival as faculty director, the program was co-directed by Brian Zaharatos, senior instructor in applied mathematics, and Bobby Schnabel, professor and external chair of computer science. Zaharatos and Schnabel laid the groundwork and got the curriculum approved. Both continue to be an integral part of the management team.

CU Boulder’s master’s in data science offers an on-campus program for traditional students and a degree on Coursera that uses performance-based admissions—which means no GRE, transcripts or letters of recommendation. Students in the data science program develop knowledge and skills in interdisciplinary and collaborative data science, including statistical analysis, data structures and algorithms, data mining, machine learning, big data architecture and data visualization. 

Wall worked in industry as a software engineer, manager and account executive before earning a doctorate in computational and applied mathematics from Rice University. She started the data science program at American University, where she developed two of the courses that became part of the core offerings in data science. At American University, she also started the graduate certificate and the bachelor’s degree in data science. She co-founded the master’s degree in data science there.  

“I love that our program at CU Boulder offers both an on-campus program for traditional students, as well as a degree on Coursera that uses performance-based admissions and is available to people of nontraditional backgrounds from around the world. Longer term, I hope to expand these degree offerings in data science to also serve graduate students without a STEM undergraduate degree.”

Registration for the master’s in data science (MS-DS) on Coursera opens April 19, and courses start May 3. Students can earn admission to the Coursera degree after successfully completing one of two self-paced pathway specializations, which are offered during six eight-week sessions per year. The residential program will hold its first term in fall 2021.