UBC introduces 10-month master of data science program

In September 2016, UBC launched its 10-month master of data science (MDS) program with an inaugural class of 22 students. The program seeks to prepare students for careers wherever data science may be applicable.  

“One thing I think we really hope for is that we end up with students placed in a diversity of areas. So not just in the tech sector [or] in the government sector, but working on all sorts of things,” said Dr. Paul Gustafson, the co-director of the MDS program and a professor in the department of statistics.

The MDS program is a collaboration between the departments of computer science and statistics because data science draws heavily from both disciplines. The program also covers data science topics which fall outside of its traditional realms of study. Such topics include data wrangling, data privacy and the ethical use of data.

“We are focusing a bit more on creative, applied and responsible use of the tools that come from statistics and computer science,” said Gustafson.

The 10-month program begins with eight months of classroom work and ends with a two-month capstone project where students work with industry mentors to solve a real-world problem.

“Employers are really interested in working with us, connecting with us, giving us feedback on the curriculum [and] recruiting our students,” said Milad Maymay, the program operations and student management director for the MDS.

The program has been received positively by both students and faculty.

“It has been tough, but fun. I am always of the opinion that if you are struggling, that means that you are learning stuff and definitely we struggle quite a bit learning things,” said Sahir Moosvi, an MDS student.

“It is the most inquisitive class I have ever taught. I have never had so many questions during lecture. I really probably have never had quite engaged a class as this,” said Gustafson. He conceded the small class size and focus on big-picture concepts contributed to the level of engagement. For September 2017, the program is looking to expand to 40 students.

Although a professional background is desirable, the program will consider applicants coming straight from an undergraduate degree.

In addition to grades, work experience and references, the program strongly considers applicants who can demonstrate a keen interest in data science.

“If you want to apply for this program, I think the best thing that you can do is just start learning this stuff by yourself,” said Matt Emery, another MDS student. “If you find yourself trying to the learn the stuff and kind of getting excited — and working more than you would have expected — then I think this program is for you.”

Both Emery and Moosvi describe the program as intense. They encourage incoming MDS students to take advantage of online resources available to gain familiarity with basic data science skills in order to hit the ground running when they begin the program.

Applications to be part of the September 2017 MDS cohort close March 31, 2017.