Thanks to ChatGPT, grad school students need more ‘hands-on’ experience with AI, industry leader says

BY Sydney LakeMarch 16, 2023, 1:25 PM
The ChatGPT logo on a laptop computer arranged in Brooklyn, as seen in March 2023. (Photographer: Gabby Jones—Bloomberg/Getty Images)

The growing popularity, skepticism, and overall fascination with ChatGPT and other generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools is signaling a growing market within the tech industry. Demand for AI-related skills and education is surging; in fact, 90% of U.S. business leaders say that ChatGPT experience is a beneficial skill for job seekers, according to a Resume Builder survey released in February.

The rise in use of ChatGPT and generative AI—tools that can create original content—is “a signal moment,” Muddu Sudhakar, co-founder and CEO of AI software company Aisera, tells Fortune. This type of technological revolution hasn’t happened in a long time, he says, comparing it to the rise of cloud services in 2008 and beyond. “I think this is just the beginning of what’s about to happen.”

Companies are using ChatGPT for a variety of services, including writing code, copywriting, creating content, supporting customers, creating summaries of meetings, researching, and generating task lists, according to Resume Builder. As a result, there are extensive possibilities for and need for a variety of jobs in AI. 

While career experience in tech may seem like a natural feeder to land a job in AI, people who are interested in breaking into the industry don’t need programming skills, says Sudhakar, who earned both a master’s degree and Ph.D. in computer science from the University of California-Los Angeles. Rather, students from a variety of educational backgrounds—including business, English, and design—can find a job in AI, he says. 

While AI workers can come from a variety of educational backgrounds, it’s still imperative that schools start to integrate specialized curriculum into their programs. 

“Schools need to teach students to get more hands-on on this,” Sudhakar says. “With what’s happened with AI this year, I would say what every university should do is offer a class. That’s how you’re going to keep up with the pace” of developing technologies.

How AI has been integrated in grad school curriculum so far 

In the higher education community, there’s been debate about whether students should have permission to use ChatGPT and other generative AI apps to assist them with coursework. The same debate applies to professors generating course materials and grading work.

Some professors, however, are fully embracing the new technology—namely Ethan Mollick, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, a top-ranked business school by Fortune. He actually requires students to use AI “to help them generate ideas, produce written material, help create apps, generate images, and more,” he wrote in a blog post.

“I expect you to use AI (ChatGPT and image generation tools, at a minimum) in this class. In fact, some assignments will require it,” his syllabus reads. “Learning to use AI is an emerging skill.”

Also at Wharton, another professor Christian Terwiesch tested whether ChatGPT could pass an MBA-level exam on operations management. And it did. 

“It does an amazing job at basic operations management and process analysis questions including those that are based on case studies,” he wrote in the study. But there were downfalls to the bot’s performance. There were “surprising mistakes” made in simple math and difficulty answering more analytical questions.

How to teach AI topics in the classroom

It can take years to develop curriculum, which is far too slow to keep up with the pace of emerging technologies like AI. What Sudhakar suggests, instead, is relying more heavily on industry experts to teach future AI job seekers. 

Schools including Carnegie Mellon University, Stanford University, the University of California-Santa Cruz, and the University of California-Los Angeles have started offering AI-focused courses in which students learn critical skill sets directly from industry experts, Sudhakar says. These courses can help students who are interested in tech-focused positions, taxonomy (suitable for English majors), designers, and conversational specialists. 

Some schools are also starting to launch AI-focused master’s degree programs. Thousands of interested students have flocked to one in particular at the University of Texas-Austin, which announced the launch of its online master’s degree program in artificial intelligence in late January. 

“Given the excitement and the applicability of machine learning and AI, we thought that it would be a game changer to launch this program to give the workforce on a national level the ability to get up to speed on some of these groundbreaking tools and techniques,” says Adam Klivans, a professor of computer science at UT Austin, according to previous Fortune reporting.

Check out all of Fortune’rankings of degree programs, and learn more about specific career paths.