As a broad discipline that combines information technology and business, data science involves gathering, storing, analyzing, and applying virtual, nonphysical information. Data scientists occupy diverse roles in expanding industries like healthcare, digital marketing, and computer engineering. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that openings for database administrators will increase by 11% from 2016 to 2026, equalling 13,700 new jobs. Opportunities for market research analysts and information security analysts will increase even more, by 23% and 28% respectively.
Due to its multidisciplinary nature, data science attracts both college students and career changers who already hold a degree in a different field. Earning an online bachelor's or master's in data science can prepare you for multiple job opportunities. This guide provides in-depth information on degree planning. You'll also gain insight into target industries and prime geographic areas for data science careers. The guide concludes with job search tips and professional development resources.
Skills Gained in a Data Science Program
Data science degree programs focus on research and analysis that convert raw data into useful, actionable information. The list below outlines five major skill sets gained through a data science curriculum.
- Statistical Analysis
- The cornerstone of data science, statistical analysis is the process of evaluating data to find underlying meaning. Students learn to calculate cohesiveness in data, summarize findings, and present information as data sets. At the advanced levels, learners delve into Bayesian analysis, linear regression, and data classification.
- Research Design
- Here, students learn how to plan the analytical research of vast data sets to ensure accuracy and integrity of results. This skill focuses on asking the right questions and developing strategies to test the validity of research findings, thereby avoiding misleading or improper conclusions. Learners also validate data sources using Digital Object Identifiers and other industry standards.
- Data Mining and Visualization
- Data mining is the process of identifying new insights and patterns in digital information. Students learn to build predictive models using data inputs to develop real-world uses like online marketing campaigns. Due to the sheer size of many data sources, learners also develop methods for representing information and trends visually.
- Machine Learning
- Building upon core skills in predictive modeling, students delve into advanced computer algorithms and principal component analysis. They learn to use training data to predict potential relationships. Learners also examine overtraining in machine learning applications and cross-validation schemes.
- Information Ethics and Privacy
- Because data science tools are not morally neutral, students must learn to predict the impact of their work and take subsequent actions responsibly. Information ethics covers topics like intellectual copyright, data security, artificial intelligence biases, anonymization, and corporate social responsibility. Students also explore the differences between confidentiality and privacy.
Why Pursue a Career in Data Science?
Information technology and data application power the global economy. In its 2017 report on emerging U.S. jobs, LinkedIn revealed that data science occupations had grown a staggering 650% since 2012. Yet, as of 2017, only 35,000 workers possessed advanced data science skills, far below the demand in all sectors. This dearth of skilled employees has created exceptional opportunities for career entry and advancement. Students who pursue data science careers benefit not only from domestic employment growth, but also from opportunities with multinational corporations and foreign government agencies. In addition to market research and information security positions, students earning a data science degree can expect many opportunities in healthcare. They may gain positions such as health information specialist or medical services manager. The BLS projects that the demand for medical and health services managers will grow by 20% between 2016 and 2026, creating more than 72,000 new jobs.
Data science represents a growing priority for private companies that need skilled analysts to engage worldwide consumers, discover emerging trade markets, and facilitate corporate decision-making processes. Business-oriented data science careers include business intelligence analysts and statisticians. Professionals with graduate credentials can also pursue leadership positions in advertising and promotions.
How Much Do Data Science Graduates Make?
BLS data indicates that market research analysts earn the most in metropolitan areas like New York City, Seattle, and Houston, with professionals in San Jose earning an average of $97,240 per year.
Industry also affects median salary, with aerospace production and telecommunications representing the highest-paying sectors for market research analysts. Furthermore, BLS data demonstrates that master's degree holders enjoy over $12,000 more in average annual salary than individuals with bachelor's credentials.
Brian Gill is an entrepreneur, computer scientist, and angel investor from Madison, Wisconsin. In 2014, along with his brother Tyler and Greg Piefer, Ph.D., Brian co-founded Gillware Data Recovery, one of the world's most successful data recovery labs. The trio then founded Phoenix Nuclear Labs (PNL), which manufactures the strongest compact neutron generators in the world.
- Why did you decide to pursue a career in data science? Was it something you were always interested in?
I was always pretty good at trying to think analytically about large data set problems. As a much younger man, I would even download hand histories from poker websites and run statistical analysis of how often a certain poker opponent would make a continuation bet after the flop. So capturing data, figuring out good ways to warehouse and analyze it, and coming up with actionable intelligence from those efforts is something I was always interested in.
- What is so valuable about earning a degree in this field right now?
Every company in the world is buried in data. Every large company in almost every industry is failing to even identify all the relevant questions these large data sets could be interrogated with. It's hard for some people to understand why a car company might employ an economist that knows nothing about cars. They do it because having that economic scientist to predict how various markets are going to perform pays indirect dividends down the line. But more and more companies are waking up to the need.
- Can graduates of data science programs find careers all over the country?
I would say that in general, you are going to find them most often in large cities, near the headquarters of large companies.
- What did your career trajectory look like after you graduated? How did you end up in your current position?
I worked as a consultant for large organizations for a bit after I graduated. One of the projects I worked on was for a large investment bank. It involved warehousing tens of thousands of internal employee trading activities to allow internal auditors to investigate trades and visualize any potential inappropriate trading behavior. I eventually started Gillware to provide data recovery, data backup, and data analytics.
- What are the pros and cons of working in the industry?
The pros are very good money, job security, and a wide range of large companies you can work for. I would say a few cons are that most companies with less than 100 employees don't have enough work to keep a data scientist busy, and if you don't want to live near a large city it probably isn't a great career choice.
- What advice would you give to data science graduates seeking a job after graduation?
The same advice I would give to anyone. Find an industry where you have a natural curiosity and you enjoy the core concepts of the products or services. The more fun it is, the more you'll enjoy your time there and the better you'll perform. In those early years, look to over-deliver, try to surprise your supervisors by finishing projects early, don't be afraid to ask questions even if you think they'll make you look foolish or ignorant, and be the first to the office and the last to leave -- especially early in your career, where you probably don't have children and lots of external responsibilities. Work-life balance is highly overrated. I worked very hard in those early years, and the people whom I made a good impression on were extremely important to getting me where I am today.
How to Become a Computer and Information Research Scientist
Earn Your Degree
Computer and information research scientist is one of the fastest-growing data science careers. The BLS projects that demand in this field will increase by 19% between 2016 and 2026. Students wishing to pursue this lucrative career need a master's degree in data science, information technology, computer programming, computer engineering, or another relevant discipline. A Ph.D. is required for dedicated research and postsecondary teaching positions.
Data scientists design new programs and reinvent existing technology to study and solve problems in manufacturing, business intelligence, healthcare, and government. They develop new software, create more efficient computing languages, and even train people to better use technology. Due to the broad nature of their work, these scientists cultivate many different skill sets.
A data science program will train you in statistical analysis and computer applications. You will also need to develop decision-making and management competencies that help align project objectives with organizational policies, procedures, and long-term goals. Data science students, especially at the graduate level, conduct extensive research that is published in peer-reviewed journals and presented at academic conferences.
How Many Years of College Does It Take to Become a Computer and Information Research Scientist?
In general, you will need four years to complete a conventional bachelor's program consisting of at least 120 credits. Traditional master's programs run two years and total a minimum of 30 credits. Accelerated online degree tracks can shorten this time significantly. Some of these intensive programs comprise eight-week classes year-round, enabling you to earn a bachelor's in two years and a master's in one year. Similarly, colleges and universities provide degree completion programs that confer transfer credits for prior college education, work experience, military training, and volunteer positions.
Concentrations Available for Data Science Majors
- A popular concentration for business-oriented students, finance covers investments and asset valuation. Students take courses like managerial accounting, financial markets and institutions, and supply chain management. They also explore international business finance, learning the processes and regulations surrounding global import and export. This concentration prepares you for careers in manufacturing, forensic accounting, and financial analysis.
- Computer Engineering
- The computer engineering concentration trains students in electrical engineering and computer science. Candidates learn to design hardware, operate networks and communication systems, and develop smart technologies. They also delve into machine intelligence, embedded systems, and cyber security. By pursuing this concentration, you gain training needed for information systems manager and network architect positions.
- Business Analytics
- Data science students who pursue a business analytics concentration develop cross-functional skills in collecting, managing, and describing data sets. They form inferences and make predictions that support business decisions at the managerial and organizational levels. Coursework includes big data analytics, optimization theory, and online business model innovation. Related data-science career paths include business intelligence officer and digital/social media marketer.
- Healthcare Administration
- This concentration teaches health leaders to coordinate medical services and improve the accessibility, affordability, and quality of patient care. Students who pursue specialized training in healthcare administration can access some of the fastest-growing careers in the U.S. They may work for hospitals, insurance companies, government agencies, and pharmaceutical manufacturers.
- Environmental Sustainability
- By pursuing an environmental sustainability concentration, data science students learn to apply statistical analysis and research to combat climate change and help companies reduce manufacturing emissions and waste. They can also work to develop sustainable energy sources and advocate for environmentally responsible government actions. Coursework is comprised of public policy analysis, clean technologies and supply chains, and corporate sustainability strategies.
What Can You Do with a Data Science Degree?
As with most fields, your career options in data science depend on your education level. While an associate degree can open the door to a support role at a good salary, a bachelor's program covers five foundational skill sets and allows you to pursue a concentration. Advanced degrees lead to higher pay and more job opportunities, especially at the management level.
Furthermore, a bachelor's degree represents a minimum requirement to earn industry-specific certification and licensure. Specialized certificates and licenses greatly help career advancement. Options include the Microsoft certified solutions expert in data management and analytics. This designation reflects professional mastery of structured query language (SQL) administration, enterprise data solutions, and business intelligence for cloud networks and on-premise environments.
Associate Degree in Data Science
Associate programs typically span two years, requiring students to complete at least 60 credits. The curriculum consists of core topics like analytical methods, introduction to programming, and database design and development. With an associate degree in data science, data analytics, or data processing, you can qualify for positions in IT support or entry-level software development.
- Technical Support Engineer
These technicians work within diverse industries including healthcare and telecommunications. They provide expert information about company services and products, responding to customer questions and requests. Technical support engineers also oversee the daily operations of computer systems. They maintain network health and troubleshoot problems as they arise.
Average Annual Salary: $62,261
- Software Developer
Software developers create computer and mobile-device applications for designated purposes, including social media engagement and e-commerce. While most developers possess a bachelor's degree, employers increasingly hire any applicant who can demonstrate skills in programming languages (like Python and C++) and operating systems (like Linux, Windows, and Solaris).
Average Annual Salary: $70,276
Bachelor's Degree in Data Science
Students earn their bachelor's degrees in data science in 2-5 years, depending on the specifics of their program. These programs provide instruction in areas such as optimal linear programming, applied data visualization, and network analysis. Learners also study predictive analytics for machine learning tools, neutral nets and regression, and dimension reduction and clustering. They also develop research skills necessary for graduate academics and careers as scientists.
Specialized coursework in an undergraduate program allows you to earn concentrations and take guided electives. For example, those with career interests in geographic information systems can delve into advanced topics like spatial statistics and SQL databases.
- Computer Systems Analyst
Computer systems analysts typically work for private businesses involved in sales, manufacturing, and distribution. They apply computer functions to automate and streamline work processes, thereby promoting efficiency and cutting operating costs. These professionals also tailor software after assessing project risks and business/customer needs.
Average Annual Salary: $67,871
- Database Administrator
Database functions grow less efficient and reliable over time due to the complexity of maintaining database connections. Using disk optimization and index-tuning methods, administrators maintain network and software health to ensure database processes run efficiently. They also oversee network security, setting user privileges and monitoring activities. Database administrators detect intrusions and implement countermeasures against cyberattacks.
Average Annual Salary: $72,363
Master's Degree in Data Science
The most lucrative data science careers require a master's degree. Master's programs in data science train students in topics needed for management occupations and typically take two years to complete. These programs may include coursework in advanced optimization, deep learning, natural language processing, and Stochastic methods for data analysis and inference. In addition, you develop ethical leadership and interpersonal communication skills for managing multidisciplinary and virtual teams.
- Network Architect
Network architects develop and implement computer networks and systems for organizations. They oversee entire projects including designing initial plans, validating risks and costs, and maintaining infrastructure. As the primary contact when problems arise, network architects also troubleshoot errors and manage information security.
Average Annual Salary: $119,190
- Information Systems Manager
Information systems managers oversee the technological function of a department or an entire organization. Working with their teams, they implement systems and applications to meet business needs. They develop product maps and coordinate the functions of their employees. Information systems managers can also occupy consulting positions, traveling to assist with their company's special projects.
Average Annual Salary: $82,696
Doctoral Degree in Data Science
By pursuing terminal degrees, data science professionals can work as research scientists and postsecondary instructors. They may also occupy executive and director positions with private companies, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations. Doctoral programs typically range from 50-70 credits, which students complete in 3-7 years depending on the parameters of their dissertation research and final project.
A diverse array of doctoral programs exist in this field, including the conventional Ph.D. in data science. You can obtain specialized degrees such as doctor of computer science or a doctor of business administration with a concentration in data analytics. Furthermore, you may focus on health and medicine by enrolling in health administration or public health doctoral programs.
- Data Scientist
Data scientists mine complex digital information to provide innovative solutions for their organizations. They possess integrative analytical skills, which enable them to process large data sets and present actionable plans. If working in a research position, data scientists test algorithms, develop computer network prototypes, and use predictive modeling to assist policy advancement.
Average Annual Salary: $91,581
- Computer Scientist
Computer scientists research ideas, test hypotheses, and develop solutions to technological challenges. Those who work in academic and intensive research settings regularly publish scholarly articles. Computer scientists in the private sector plan and execute projects that benefit operations, such as creating predictive software that analyzes consumer behavior to guide product development.
Average Annual Salary: $78,230
Where Can I Work as a Data Science Graduate?
With a data science degree, you can leverage your skills with tech companies, software publishers, and design firms. Lucrative careers exist in a variety of industries, including private-sector enterprises like industrial manufacturers and healthcare facilities. Data scientists with doctoral training and extensive work experience may apply for leadership positions in research and development settings, which include academic institutions and government laboratories. The following sections examine employment opportunities and how factors like location and industry impact opportunities for job entry and growth.
Data scientists and other professionals working in the technology industry often find the highest-paying positions in metropolitan areas, particularly locations with a strong IT infrastructure and software development presence. According to the BLS, California boasts the highest highest employment of computer and information research scientists, followed by Maryland, Virginia, and Texas. Salaries are highest in Washington, with a mean of $143,080 per year.
You should consider quality of life when deciding where to work and reside. California and Washington offer great employment and pay potential, but the high cost of living can offset these benefits.
- Federal Executive Branch
Data scientists work in every part of the federal government, including the CIA. They organize and interpret data for decision-makers and shape resource and technology investments.
Average Salary: $108,390
- Computer Systems Design and Related Services
In the systems design and services sector, data scientists work as developers and programmers, creating system architectures, designing hardware, and writing code.
Average Salary: $132,690
- Scientific Research and Development Services
Data and computer scientists who hold dedicated research and development positions conduct studies and publish their findings. The nature of research varies greatly, encompassing topics like information security, social media usage, consumer privacy, and global economics.
Average Salary: $131,690
- Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools
In this sector, data science experts provide classroom instruction and assist students with research and career development. In postsecondary institutions, they can also work as administrators and advisors who apply their skills to increase enrollment numbers.
Average Salary: $96,910
- Software Publishers
Software publishers act as the intermediary between developers and distributors. These companies publish proprietary software programs with specific limitations and royalty considerations. Data science professionals in this industry work in a variety of roles involving testing, reviewing, and advertising.
Average Salary: $144,260
How Do You Find a Job in Data Science?
In addition to utilizing college career-placement resources, you can bolster your career prospects by engaging with professional organizations. The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences offers comprehensive support to its members, including mentoring programs and an online job bank. Similarly, the Digital Analytics Association provides career services and certification programs. You may also look to the International Data Engineering and Science Association for networking and training opportunities.
Professional Resources for Data Science Majors
Founded in 1839, the ASA includes industry, government, and academic members in over 90 countries. The association funds policy initiatives and research projects. Members connect through national and international networking events, including the Women in Statistics and Data Science Conference. Additional resources include internships, fellowships, grants, student award competitions, and JobWeb.
ADaSi supports more than 1,000 members who connect through local chapter meetings and national conventions. They can also share knowledge and receive guidance through an integrative online forum. The association delivers continuing education courses, job listings, mentoring programs, and internship opportunities. Professionals can also gain ADaSi's chartered data scientist credential.
Established in 1949, AITP helps technology professionals, educators, and students build their professional networks. The association conducts skill development and leadership programs and hosts local chapter meetings and national events. Data science professionals can also pursue certification in areas like cloud essentials, project management, IT fundamentals, and information security.
As a nonprofit professional organization, IIBA maintains global standards for the emerging field of business intelligence and analytics. Members access career services and a knowledge center that includes business analysis competency models and best practices. They can also take advantage of certification programs in areas like core business data and agile analysis.
Founded in 2013 as a community-driven initiative, RDA promotes the social networks and technology services that enable open data sharing and reuse. Members collaborate in special interest working groups and regional meetings. They benefit from webinars and career guidance. RDA also operates student groups and early career programs in the U.S. and Europe.