UVA launches data science doctoral program

BY Meghan MalasApril 28, 2022, 1:17 PM
Statue of Thomas Jefferson in front of The Rotunda on the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, as seen in July 2021. (Photo by: Robert Knopes—UCG/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

The University of Virginia’s School of Data Science will launch a new Ph.D. program in data science in Fall 2022, citing the high demand for more data science professionals and a need for more emphasis on research in the field. In its announcement, the school noted that the role of “data scientist” is the third fastest-growing job in the U.S., according to LinkedIn’s 2020 emerging jobs report. The job also ranked No. 3 on Glassdoor’s annual list of the 50 best occupations, and job openings for data scientists have grown 480% since 2016.

“From the conception of the School of Data Science, we always intended to have a strong research program,” says Phillip Bourne, founding dean of the School of Data. “That cannot happen without a significant cohort of graduate students gaining deep skills in data science research from both theoretical and practical perspectives—a Ph.D. provides that degree of training.”

The School of Data Science was founded in 2019 and already hosts a minor in data science undergraduate program, an in-person and online master’s in data science degree program, several graduate dual-degree programs, and several non-degree, professional programs. 

A Ph.D. in data science prepares students for an interdisciplinary field

The Ph.D. in data science program at UVA doesn’t require prospective students to have a master’s degree or a data science background to apply, though students are required to have taken courses in calculus, algebra, statistics, and programming before matriculation. Applicants to the doctoral program should have an interest in communicating complex information and topics to broader audiences and ethical data interpretation. 

The full-time, in-person doctoral program aims to equip students for the interdisciplinary nature of data science. Students will have exposure to tools from disciplines like statistics, mathematics, information science, or computer science, and they will focus on developing methods from data that can be applied in science and society. Additionally, graduates will collaborate in team-based research and problem-solving.

“Ph.D. students from our program will be exceptional researchers, helping to forge data science methods for academia, industry, and government,” says Jeffrey Blume, associate dean of academic and faculty affairs. “We envision our graduates taking faculty positions in the sciences, digital humanities, and at other data science schools or institutes.”

The Ph.D. program is focused on mathematical and computational foundations for data science methods, representing the next level of depth in data science education, says Blume. While some topics in the master’s and doctoral degree programs will overlap, the technical and applied treatment is different in the two programs.

Applications for the Ph.D. in data science are now open, and the program will begin in August.

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