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CS @ ILLINOIS is defining and envisioning the data science field for undergraduates

1/23/2017 12:58:59 PM Laura Schmitt

With the arrival of big data and massive computing power, data science has become one of the hottest career fields. In fact, Glassdoor, the online jobs and recruiting website, declared that data scientist is the best job in America for 2017, with a median salary of $116,000 and many employment opportunities.

CS Department Head Rob A. Rutenbar
CS Department Head Rob A. Rutenbar
But how does an undergraduate student become a data scientist? What principles are critical to the field? And what content sets it apart from other related disciplines like statistics and computer science?

CS Department Head Rob A. Rutenbar will help answer these important questions as a member of a newly formed National Academies committee that is conducting a study to envision the data science discipline from an undergraduate perspective.

“If you’re an 18-year-old undergraduate and you want to get in this game, you need to know what data science is, what you should study, and where this stuff exists in the undergrad experience at major research universities, smaller schools, and even junior colleges,” said Rutenbar. “Our job is to try to understand the emergence of the discipline from the undergraduate perspective and offer some actionable advice for universities who will create programs of study, degrees, and educational experiences.”

Rutenbar and the committee met at the National Academy of Sciences in December for their inaugural meeting. They’ll meet a couple of more times to discuss issues in 2017, and then they will release their report in early 2018. The committee is co-chaired by IBM Fellow and executive Laura Haas and University of Michigan Electrical Engineering & Computer Science Professor Alfred Hero III.

This isn’t Rutenbar’s first experience providing high-level input to a National Academies-commissioned study. In August 2016, he contributed to a group examining CS curriculum programs like the CS + X degree options. Illinois is a leader in this undergraduate education option, with current degree offerings in six different fields—anthropology, astronomy, chemistry, linguistics, math, and statistics—and more options coming this year.