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Developing future leaders in data science

We now produce data so rapidly that it is estimated that 90% of the world’s data was created in the last two years alone. Businesses are struggling to keep up. The University of London, in partnership with member institution Goldsmiths, has launched a suite of postgraduate programmes in data science to fill a vital skills gap.

We talked to Programme Director, Dr Larisa Soldatova, about how the MSc Data Science programme has been designed to meet growing demand for data scientists across almost every industry.

Written by Allie Fitzgibbon |

Man looking at data charts on screen
Data science is a fast-changing area, and the skills and knowledge you need to work in this field are constantly evolving.

What sets this masters programme apart from other courses in data science?

Data science is such a fast-changing area and the skills and knowledge you need to work in this field are constantly evolving. Now that the tools used in data science are getting more and more intelligent and the technical barriers are getting lower, it’s so important to strike the right balance between teaching advanced data analytics without overloading students with information that will be out of date in a few years’ time.

Our programme is completely up-to-date and purposely tailored for the essential theories, skills and approaches that a data scientist will need.

I know from speaking to companies that there are hundreds of data science jobs available – often with very attractive salaries – but there is a real shortage of supply in candidates with the right skills.

How does the masters programme prepare students for their future career?

We are offering skills not simply in analysing data but in moving from data to knowledge and from knowledge to action. Our students won’t just be able to understand data but will be able to create models that can predict future trends – the applications they develop will be predictive, not just descriptive. That is becoming so important for companies, particularly in areas like business intelligence and decision making.

Another big challenge facing businesses right now is the responsible and ethical use of data. We all know how much data is being collected about us without us even really being aware and there are significant legal and ethical implications involved. Legislation is still behind the curve in many areas but we will teach our students to work ethically so that those values are built-in to everything they do.

What do you look for in applicants to the programme?

We haven’t designed the course with only computer scientists in mind and I hope we will have a wide range of backgrounds. We welcome applicants from all areas and in the Goldsmiths on-campus programme we’ve had a great mix of students, which works really well.

You shouldn’t feel put off if you don’t have basic programming skills already. We have developed a crash course in programming – available on Coursera – and in just five weeks you can learn those skills and go on to be very successful.

More generally I would say we’re looking for people who are motivated, clear about what they want to achieve and organised. I want students to be adventurous, open-minded, willing to try something new and excited to keep learning.

Tell me about the specialist pathways on offer.

You can choose to study pure data science or one of our specialisms – Data Science and Artificial Intelligence or Data Science and Financial Technology.

AI has had, and is continuing to have, a profound effect on almost every industry. More and more of what humans do can be automated – from driving cars to drawing up legal contracts and carrying out medical operations. This means not only are some jobs disappearing, many others are changing, and the skills required to do those jobs are changing as well.

The Data Science and AI programme will give students an understanding of what is happening, what the future may look like and how they can be a part of, and hopefully leaders in, this area.

In the Financial Technologies specialism, we look specifically at the vast amount of data in the financial markets. Students will learn how to use this data to make intelligent short term and long term decisions and how to demonstrate the advantages and disadvantages of those decisions – from whether or not to give credit to how and why to invest money.

What advice would you give someone who is concerned about studying a masters online?

Well firstly, students do have a choice. University of London is working with many Recognised Teaching Centres around the globe and if they want face-to-face support they can choose to study there.

Those choosing to study online will have a tutor guiding and motivating them and dealing with any difficulties. There are also group exercises that will bring students together and being able to work as a team online is a very useful skill to master. Many companies have virtual communities and remote working, so our online learning environment offers a good opportunity to practice that style of working.

I also think online learning suits many people who are working part-time. After we announced the new programme I had enquiries from our on-campus master's degree students who are interested in transferring because studying online would help them balance their work and studies better.

Find out more about the MSc Data Science programme.