Data Science 101: from job growth to industry opportunities

Solve some of the world’s biggest challenges with data science.

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Data scientists solve problems by analysing, interpreting and communicating data. Our data-driven world generates huge volumes of information through social media, financial transactions, transportation, and even scientific discovery. 

The ability to manage data is rapidly becoming an essential skill across organisations and industries, so RMIT has introduced the new Bachelor of Data Science to prepare students for a career in this multidisciplinary field.

But what does data science involve? And which types of people become data scientists? We asked James Harland, Associate Dean of Student Experience and Professor in Computational Logic, to answer your questions.

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What is data science?

“Every company has data and every person has data; there’s data everywhere. Data scientists are people who can analyse, communicate and interpret data. 

“There are three sets of skills that data scientists use: 

1. Specialist knowledge in the area, e.g. bushfires, finance or health, 

2. Computing or statistical skills to identify, gather and format data, and

3. Mathematical competency.

“You have to care about the data, as well as understand the data. A firefighter in the CFA who’s concerned about bushfires can look at the historic data on bushfires, temperatures and wind, and determine what a steady increase in summer temperatures over the last 15 years means for firefighters.

“To use another topical example, with COVID-19 we look at the data to answer questions like: how does the virus spread, is community transmission a bigger issue than a super spreader, are there areas we should lock down, or can most cases be traced back to overseas travellers? Those are research problems and we use data science to solve them. That’s what intrigues me, the fact that every data set is a research problem in some sense, and it appeals to someone with a curiosity of mind.”

How do I know if data science is for me?

“If you can think laterally and solve problems, and evidence-based decision making is your thing, study data science. Data science is an unwritten book, it’s flexible and it’s growing in the future.

“The Bachelor of Data Science isn’t one size fits all. You can be straight out of school, or you can already be a meteorologist or a food scientist. If you’re interested in data, we can teach you the skills, expertise and more advanced areas of computing you need. 

“We make sure we’ve got a flexible foundation because the applications will be varied. There’s also a subject about the data science professional, and it explores the issues in the ethics, privacy and security of data, which is an area that goes across all applications of data science.”

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What careers does data science open doors to?

“There’s a variety of data, so there’s a variety of roles for data scientists. Data is the first place to start with any of the big problems facing the world right now: climate change, food security, cyber security, COVID-19. 

“Data scientists don’t rely on anecdotal or lived experience, they use evidence, facts, logical arguments and sound premises to bring about change. If you want to solve any big problem, you start with the data.

“There’s an increasing demand for people who don’t just have the technical skill to understand the data, but the ability to ask what the data means and communicate it. We ran an event with ANZ and they told us that they’re swimming in data and need people to deal with it. 

“That’s a traditional data science job, managing transactional data in a bank, but ANZ also told us they’re looking for people with the professional skills to work in a team and communicate their data. At RMIT, communication skills are honed in group work with other students who bring different perspectives to the table and learn how best to communicate their data.”

How will I learn data science at RMIT?

“RMIT has a strong focus on industry, work integrated learning and applying what you know in a practical context. In my experience, a lot of RMIT assessment isn’t based on traditional exams, it’s more about projects and industry involvement. 

“For the new Bachelor of Data Science we sat down with our industry advisory committee and other industry bodies, and asked ourselves, ‘What is a data scientist, and how do we design this course to meet the needs of the industry?’ 

“The structure of the course is roughly one-third mathematics, one-third computing and one-third on a project basis, with opportunities for industry to come into the classroom. 

“We ask organisations to bring their real-world problems and issues to us for students to tackle in their project work. Students then get feedback from the organisation on their presentation, professional skills and outcomes, and they understand what an organisation expects from them.

“Speakers from the Institute of Data give guest lectures in our courses, and we recently partnered with the Institute to develop data science and artificial intelligence training programs. 

"We have industry partners like ANZ, Microsoft, IBM and Amazon Web Services as part of all our cybersecurity, computing and mathematics studies. Academics and students and industry are involved in a three-way partnership, where we all benefit from each other's expertise.”

 

Story: Hilary Jones

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