‘Curiosity’ is Important for Data Analysts of the Future

(Photo illustration: Shutterstock)

(Photo illustration: Shutterstock)

Students pursuing a master’s degree in data science at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) were probably accepted by an admissions officer who never saw their SAT scores.

“We’re a unique program. I’ll be honest, we’ve gotten some flak for this, but we don’t take standardized tests. We don’t require you have taken calculus 1, 2, and 3,” said Robert J. McGrath, associate professor and director of graduate programs in Analytics and Data Science at UNH. “We don’t want people just looking for dollar signs. If they understand the nature of how society’s changing, that’s what we want. The curiosity factor is probably the No. 1 component.”

Robert McGrath
Robert McGrath (Photo: LinkedIn)

In addition to the 11-month master’s program, UNH also offers developmental training and certification courses on data analytics. McGrath, who spoke on AllAnalytics’s radio broadcast titled “A Look at Tomorrow’s Data Scientist,” said the university is in the process of developing a doctoral program. According to McGrath, UNH’s data science program aims to prepare students for the workforce, where they will either hold positions on the computational IT side of the industry or the business side.

In addition to teaching students skills they may need for the workforce, UNH professors also provide their pupils with the chance to engage with companies directly. Students can participate in a seven-month-long practicum where they can work alongside a company. McGrath said that, because industry need for data scientists is so dire, companies start recruiting students for work within the first 12 weeks of the semester.

“We give the companies a lot of options,” McGrath said. “Often, they’re not even sure what a project entails. In giving the project to students, that’s where the lightbulbs start to go off. The danger is that we get more requests than we can fill. That’s a good problem to have.”

McGrath foresees that the field of data analytics will continue to grow at an exponential rate. He said that discussions on the ethics, business, and personal implications of data ownership and analysis are yet to come. He said that universities and companies must work together in order to prepare data experts of the future.

“Historical universities see themselves as stoic, walled universities. That can’t be the case in the future,” McGrath said. “University’s job is to garner new knowledge, leverage technology, and to train the next generation of experts. If we can do that to benefit both industries and the public, then everybody’s going to win.”

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