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Sunday, February 25, 2024
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Examining increases in undergraduate data science enrollment

Data science has been a concept that has garnered greater attention and become a rising major for students to pursue at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

There has been a significant increase of people pursuing this major, according to the Harvard Business Review. Since the inception of the undergraduate data science major in 2019 to fall of 2022, UW-Madison has added 914 data science students — more than any other major at the university.

According to Hal Varian, Chief Economist at Google and University of California, Berkeley professor of information sciences, business and economics, data science is the breakdown of data and using it to improve a variety of aspects of day-to-day life.

Jobs are growing in the field as a result of continuing technological expansion. Data scientist jobs are predicted to experience 36% growth between 2021 and 2031, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Students who spoke to The Daily Cardinal said the opportunities a data science degree offers in regards to future careers is a large factor for this increase.

“I think that a lot of it falls in the opportunities that a degree in data science opens up post-grad,” said Luke Welsh, a junior at UW-Madison. “It makes sense that students will want to come away from college with a degree that is really valuable and makes them very desirable in the workforce.” 

Students also said they felt many companies are starting to see value in data science degrees and have begun implementing data science positions into their workrooms.

“I feel like the program has grown so much as a result of the surge in data analytics in the tech and business industry,” sophomore Tarun Vedulasaid. “It’s becoming increasingly apparent that for businesses to scale, they need to work with data to predict what their future may look like.”

The work that can be done with data science jobs has an impact on a plethora of fields, which Welsh said opens up more job opportunities.

“Data science work can be beneficial in any part of a company that involves decision making,” he explained. “Since data is being collected at increasing rates, this means that there is increasing analysis to be completed on all of this new data, often in ways that have not been done before.”

There is much to learn about the field of data analysis. With technology constantly changing, this impacts the future for data scientists.

“I think the value to future careers is that it has the power to totally change the way we operate,” UW-Madison senior Nikhil Agarwal said. “Taking in data and understanding how to make sense of it can have so many benefits in just about every business sector.”

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Alongside the growth of technology comes the growth of data. But since all of these changes are new, not all of this data is being put to use, said UW-Madison senior Donald Conway. 

“Companies collect a lot of data,” Conway said. “Presently, more than 90% of this data isn't being used. Data scientists use data to help inform business decisions to help companies find insights and make better decisions by utilizing that data.”

Lecturer Bi Cheng Wu also spoke with the Cardinal about the job market and how data has increased on such a global scale due to the vast amount of corporations.

“Data science and statistics have been rising in popularity as a field of study for a number of years now for a variety of reasons,” Wu said. “I think two of the biggest contributing factors have been the increasing amount of data that is generated and collected 24/7 by corporations and governments to track and surveil the general public.”

Furthermore, Wu said the need for data scientists is only growing and explained what he believes to be the biggest contributors.

“I think two of the biggest contributing factors have been the increasing amount of data that is generated and collected 24/7 by corporations and governments to track and surveil the general public and the democratization of technology,” Wu said.

Determining what makes UW-Madison’s data science program different from that of another university comes down to the professors and the resources provided, Wu added.

“UW-Madison's data science and statistics program is uniquely poised to equip students with the skillset to thrive in today's data driven world,” Wu said. “Founded by the renowned statistician George Box in 1960, our department is at the forefront of statistical research and boasts a world-class faculty roster, including field giants such as Michael Newton, Grace Wahba, Brian Yandell, Sündüz Keleş, just to name a few.”

Students echoed the value of UW-Madison’s professors as a guiding factor of why students may be attracted to the program.

“I took CS 320 with Dr. Caraza-Harter because I wanted to learn more about programming in Python,” Conway said. “Dr. Caraza-Harter was very inspiring. He made data science extremely accessible and interesting.”

Wu expects UW-Madison’s data science program to grow as others see the success of graduates.

“Our alumni have also continued on to achieve many impressive accomplishments in both academia and industry, thanks to the rigorous and effective curriculum,” Wu said.

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