Weather and climatological data represented one of the first big waves of information in the Big Data revolution. As one of the natural systems with the greatest impact on our daily lives, we’ve been observing and accumulating records on weather for just about as long as we’ve been able to write them down… meteorological observations have been traced back to circa 3000 BC in India. And reliable, recorded, systematic observations in England go back as far as the 17th century.
But it wasn’t until computers came along that big, sweeping, and useful analysis of all that information became possible, ushering in the era of climate science along with it. North Carolina State University’s Institute for Climate Studies has been a critical part of that data-driven revolution, working closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Center for Environmental Information in Asheville to advance climate science through cutting edge technological research and collaboration.
They picked a great state for ready access to the kind of expertise it takes to crunch all that data. North Carolina’s fabled Research Triangle is a hotbed of data science activity. Hundreds of companies working in data science and analytics call the state home, and thousands of data professionals and tech experts work in this part of North Carolina.
Healthcare is another major focus here, with companies like Durham’s Validic using the cloud to provide data services and integrations for the healthcare industry. Charlotte boasts Premier, Inc., previously the Premier Healthcare Alliance—a purchasing group for thousands of hospitals and tens of thousands of non-acute sites. The company was at the forefront of helping organizations deal with the major supply chain issues that have emerged with the COVID-19 pandemic, and to track infections and predict demand surges based on symptoms tracking reported in regional electronic medical record reports.
With a lot of high-powered educational options here, you’re in a good position to obtain a master’s degree as soon as you’re ready to make your move.
Preparing for a Master’s Degree in Data Science in North Carolina
If you are one of those ambitious candidates, then you should begin preparing for a master’s degree during your undergraduate studies. Obtaining relevant work experience and taking the appropriate courses will greatly improve your chances of being accepted into a highly competitive data science master’s program.
Undergraduate Degree and Master’s Prerequisite Courses
Graduate schools that offer data science programs prefer students who have the appropriate background for this field. This kind of preparation entails:
- Earning a bachelor’s degree in a quantitative field such as computer science, statistics, applied math, or engineering
- Taking courses in key disciplines such as calculus I and II, linear algebra, statistics, quantitative methods, and programming languages
- Having a minimum GPA of 3.0
Relevant Personal and Work Experience for Admissions
It’s not just academic hurdles that you will need to clear, however. Typically, graduate schools seek applicants with highly relevant professional experience too, including:
- At least five years of technical work experience ideally through employment that demonstrates quantitative skills
- Hands-on experience related to data mining, database administration, programming, mathematics, or statistics
- Strong communication skills
Examples of qualifying local experience in North Carolina that may satisfy these requirements include:
- IT Senior Application Architect with Price Waterhouse Cooper
- Global Big Data Engineer with Lenovo
- Database Engineer with ChannelAdvisor
- Principle Software Engineer/Developer with Fidelity Investments
Performing high quality work with an employer is crucial to obtaining the stellar letters of recommendation often required for admission into a data science master’s program.
Building Your Qualifications for a Master’s Program While Getting Entry-Level Job Skills with a Data Science Boot Camp in Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Charlotte, or Online
You have a bit of a cart-before-horse problem when it comes to getting experience in analytics in order to meet the qualifications for a data science graduate program. One way to solve that is by enrolling in a data science boot camp.
Boot camps are intensive, focused, practical courses that are designed to take entrants at various skill levels and give them useful knowledge and experience using cutting-edge software tools and methods in data analysis and visualization.
An entry-level program can help you by both qualifying you for the job market with the exact skills local employers look for, while building up your skill level to get your application to the top of the stack so you can get into a master’s program without any hiccups.
Usually taking between one and nine months to complete, boot camps don’t go into background or theoretical aspects of the field. Instead, they tend to use real-world datasets working on relevant problems in a project-based, cadre-driven process that produces real results.
Today, even top-ranked colleges are starting to put on data science boot camps. The Data Analytics Boot Camp at UNC Charlotte and The Data Analytics Boot Camp at UNC-Chapel Hill are 24-week, part-time boot camps open to entry-level applicants. UNC recommends that you have a bachelor’s degree and two years of experience in the field, but will settle for a GED.
If accepted, you’ll get a crash course in major data science elements like:
- Statistical modeling and forecasting
- Machine learning
- Hadoop, MySQL, and MongoDB databases
- Visualization with Tableau and D3.js
It’s a fast-paced education that can land you straight in a lucrative data science job, or help burnish your credentials for a master’s program… or both.
Preparing for Success on the GRE/GMAT Exams
Doing well on standardized tests is another fact of life for master’s program applicants. Obtaining a score in the top 15th percentile of the GRE and/or GMAT is an excellent way to demonstrate core competency in key data science skills. It is essential that you prepare for these exams ahead of time, and both students who have taken the exams and the testing services themselves recommend taking practice tests on sample math problems until you are highly comfortable with them.
The GRE’s quantitative section is particularly important and evaluates your skills in data analysis, algebra, geometry, and arithmetic. You’ll want to pay particular note to statistics materials, including standard deviations and probabilities. Sample questions and free practice exams are available at the official GRE website.
The General Management Admissions Test (GMAT) evaluates a candidate’s quantitative, writing, and verbal abilities. Graduate school admissions departments expect high scores in all of these areas. However, the 37 questions that assess data efficiency and problem solving are particularly important. Candidates can take GMAT practice exams through Veritas Prep and The Princeton Review.
Filling Gaps in Functional Knowledge Through MOOCs and Bridge Courses
There are a couple of other options to brush up on basic information if a boot camp doesn’t appeal to you or doesn’t quite cover the gaps in your knowledge.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) – If you missed out on picking up some key academic skills during your undergraduate education, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are one way to acquire these skills. MOOCs are essentially open access college-level courses delivered entirely online, and often with self-paced material and extremely large enrollment numbers. That makes it easy to find collaborators and to balance your classes with real-life obligations, and you can pick and choose among options (some of them offered by prestigious universities) to meet your exact needs.
Bridge Programs – Many graduate programs offer their own academic programs designed to supplement your skillsets in areas that apply to data science. These are almost always pre-programmed undergraduate level courses that the schools already offer, which you are allowed to enroll in expressly to prepare for the master’s program. Two types of bridge programs are available, reflecting the common deficiencies in experience candidates are suffering from:
- Fundamental bridge programs – courses in algorithms and their analysis, data structures, and linear algebra
- Programming bridge programs – training in such essential programming languages as JAVA, C++, and Python
Earning a Master’s Degree in Data Science in North Carolina
Prospective data science students in North Carolina have a wealth of options between the high quality online schools available and local data science programs in and around the Triangle.
With the prominence of the Triangle in the competitive business of data science, universities in the area offer high-powered master’s degrees to provide the technical and theoretical skills for students to enter this well-paid workforce.
On-campus Data Science Programs Available in North Carolina
Several universities located in the Triangle and around the state offer a variety of specialized data programs that enable prospective students to choose the program best suited to their career goals. On-campus graduate programs available in North Carolina include:
- MS in Analytics
- PSM in Data Science and Business Analytics (DSBA)
- PSM in Health Informatics
Features of North Carolina’s Online Data Science Master’s Programs
The focus of the graduate data science programs in North Carolina’s state schools vary depending on the career goals of their applicants.
Charlotte – Professional Science Master (PSM) Degree Programs
Professional science master’s degrees differ from traditional master’s degree in two ways. One is the program’s practicum or internship requirement that connects the students with industry leaders. The other is the presence of an advisory board that contains business and industry executives.
PSM in Data Science and Business Analytics (DSBA) – With its interdisciplinary intersection of computer and information sciences, business, statistics, and operations research, graduates from this professional program are well equipped for employment in a number of data science industries.
PSM in Health Informatics – With a healthcare revolution using Big Data taking place, the PSM in health informatics is designed to produce professionals with the skills in data science to work with large data sets and who understand the language of health care.
Raleigh – MS in Analytics (MSA)
This master’s degree equips students with skills in data modeling and visualization, data cleaning, statistics, computer programming, and industry-standard analytical skills. The culmination of this master’s degree is its eight-month practicum in which teams of 4-5 students conduct real-world analytics using data from any one of a number of different industries.
Chapel Hill – MS in Interdisciplinary Statistics and Operations Research (INSTORE)
The machine learning track of this master’s program exposes students to rigorous courses in both statistics and optimization, so that graduates excel in the analysis of complex sets of data. In addition to the coursework required for the degree, students can specialize by taking courses from departments such as Genomics, Bioinformatics, Economics, Computer Science, and Biostatistics.
Online Data Science Programs For North Carolina Residents
In addition to the data programs offered by state schools in North Carolina, you have a number of options for obtaining a master’s in data science from highly respected online programs.
Such programs offer greater flexibility to working professionals and are offered in a variety of options ranging from full-time and part-time to accelerated tracks. The program lengths range from 32 months for students attending part-time to 18 months for full-time students. Accelerated options can be completed in as little as 12 months.
While the initial coursework is entirely online, most programs require an immersion experience in the final semester. Students take intensive classes on campus and interact with their professors and peers during this final semester.
Degree programs available include:
- Master of Science (MS) in Data Science
- Master of Science in Data Science (MSDS)
- Master of Information and Data Science (MSDS)
- Graduate Certificate in Data Science
- Online Certificate in Data Science
- Data Science Certificate
- Data Mining and Application Graduate Certificate
Core Curriculum Content
The coursework will vary in different Master’s programs, but the core courses will cover essential skills that data science positions require. All programs will include these topics:
- Machine learning and artificial intelligence
- Data storage and retrieval
- Data research design and applications
- Data mining
- Network and data security
- Applied regression and time series analysis
- File organization and database management
- Information visualization
Most online data science programs provide an opportunity for the students to apply their theoretical training to real-world problems during your immersion experience. This enables students to work in small teams and spearhead a data science project that resembles the tasks you’ll be presented with while working in the field.
Key Competencies and Objectives
Data science master’s programs equip their graduates with a wide array of proficiencies in core areas. This breadth of training will enable these data scientists to work in a number of core areas:
- Data mining and machine learning
- Data and network security
- Data collection and analysis
- Data cleansing
- Database management and file organization
- Communication and visualization
- Ethics, privacy, and relevant law
Career Opportunities for North Carolina Data Scientists with Advanced Degrees
North Carolina’s prominence in high-tech industries provides a number of options for data science employment. The Triangle in particular had a strong focus in tech for decades and in recent years became a magnet for data centers that require data scientists with advanced degrees.
From the creation of SAS software years ago to the recent opening of MetLife’s global technology and operations headquarters, the Triangle continues to draw cutting edge data science companies and hot startups in the field, like Pendo, a product analysis company that combines analytics with qualitative feedback for a unique blend of information.
Shown below are job listings for data science positions in North Carolina. These listings are informational only and meant to showcase the variety of data science job options in North Carolina. They should not be construed as current job offers or an assurance of employment.
Data Scientist with Cognizant in Charlotte – The position requires that applicants understand machine learning, predictive modeling, statistical analysis, and conceptual modeling. Applicants must have extensive technical knowledge in Hadoop, Samza, Spark, .Net framework, Java platform, and infrastructure architecture. Cognizant prefers applicants with a masters in applied mathematics, statistics, or engineering and requires 8 years of technology experience with 3+ years of data science experience.
Data Scientist – IT Analytics with SAS Institute in Cary – This position requires programming skills with SAS knowledge, scripting languages, multiple operating systems, and the knowledge to deal with large volumes of data. Applicants must have a master’s degree in applied mathematics, statistics, or a related quantitative field and 3-5 years of experience in building analytical models or data analysis.