A minor to complement all majors

Digital transformation concept. Binary code. AI (Artificial Intelligence).
Digital transformation concept. Binary code. AI (Artificial Intelligence).

The origins of data science trace back to the 1960s when mathematician John Turkey referred to the discipline as a then “unrecognized science” which involved learning from data. The field didn’t really advance, however, until the early 2000s when artificial intelligence, deep learning and machine learning became possible.

Unlike more specialized data-related fields — such as data mining or data engineering — data science encompasses the entire cycle of translating raw data into usable information. This information can then be applied in a wide variety of applications. In the past two decades, for example, it has helped identify and predict diseases, prevented tax evasion and even predicted incarceration rates, to name just a few examples.

As a result of the new field’s success, there is a growing demand for graduates with a background in data science. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, data scientist jobs are predicted to experience a 36% growth between 2021 and 2031.

To help meet this need, the University of Washington Bothell is launching a Data Science minor that gives students background in data analysis and visualization as well as exposure to algorithms and lower-level programming tools.

“This minor can benefit students with any major,” said Dr. Johnny Lin, associate teaching professor in the School of STEM. “It’s extremely versatile and can provide skills you can use in a range of fields including the arts, nursing, engineering, science, business and beyond.”

Extending the possibilities

Johnny Lin, associate teaching professor, School of STEM

What makes data science different than data analysis is its close connection to programming. By using machine learning algorithms at a lower level, it is able to work with vast volumes of data and find unseen patterns, derive meaningful innovation and aid in business decisions.

“Data science extends the boundaries of what is possible,” Lin said. “Before its invention, scientists were bound by the constraints of current software that limited the amount of data that could be processed as well as how that data could be modeled.

“Now, data scientists have the tools to create their own software programs and tailor them exactly as they wish — making nearly any analysis possible.”

Scholars in the humanities, for example, have used data science to gain analytical leverage on long-standing questions including what factors determine quality of life, what constitutes a well-functioning society and democracy, and why some societies are tortured by violence and conflict. “Data scientists are trained to work with extremely large volumes of data,” Lin said, “but also to spot trends and predict future behavior.

“Applying that to the social sciences can lead to fascinating results. It belongs in the humanities as much as it belongs in science and engineering.”

Programming health

Data science has made great strides in health care, too, as was evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Data science demonstrated global patterns in the spread of infection, helping to predict the next region the virus could spread and how government policies could be designed to best combat the disease. Data scientists were able to then monitor the spread of the virus and coordinate with authorities to send resources to the areas most impacted.

But whether in a pandemic or not, data scientists in the health care industry can employ their analytical skills to save lives

Using predictive analyses — a type of analytics that uses past and current data to project future patterns — professionals are able to make predictions about the onset of certain diseases, ensuring proper care is provided in an appropriate amount time. These models can also be used to help manage chronic diseases, predict future patient crises and deliver faster hospital data documentation.

“The School of Nursing & Health Studies has long recognized the importance of intersection between technology and health care,” Lin said. “A minor in Data Science gives Nursing & Health Studies students additional skills to analyze and understand health care data.”

Business and beyond

The field of business has benefited greatly from data science, as well, Lin said.

“There are so many fields that really have nothing to do with traditional sciences or programming per se but can use the programming tools in data science to answer data-dependent questions about operations. This is especially true with large retail businesses that have all this customer information from point of sale to online purchases.

“Data science has the potential to help businesses better serve customers,” Lin said. “by analyzing purchase patterns, developing strategies that increase sales, confirming timely delivery and managing stock inventory.”

Although it’s not just retail businesses that benefit, he noted. “Data science can add value to any business that can use their data well. From statistics and insights across workflows to hiring new employees and helping senior staff make better-informed decisions, data science is valuable to any company in any industry.”

Opening up new opportunities

The Data Science minor at UW Bothell launches in spring quarter 2023, and Lin encourages students from all majors to consider applying.

“Regardless of what it is you are wanting to do after college, there are ways in which you can utilize the skills that you learn in the Data Science minor to benefit your career,” Lin said. “It will only make you a more well-rounded candidate and enhance your understanding of your field.”

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