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New Grad Degrees in Computer Engineering and Data Science

Tufts expands engineering graduate programs to meet the growing demand for computer and data science skills

Two new graduate programs at the School of Engineering are rising to meet the rapidly growing demand for computer engineers and data science experts.

Applications will open this fall for a new master’s degree in computer engineering program, which aims to attract a broad range of students, from current B.S. students to working engineers with backgrounds in computer engineering, computer science, electrical engineering or related fields.

A new graduate program is being developed in data science, too. Current Tufts B.S. students may apply for the B.S./M.S. five-year program starting this fall. Applications for the standalone master’s degree will be accepted starting in fall 2019. Students can also opt to earn a certificate in either discipline, as either a prelude to M.S. study or as a separate credential.

Both the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Department of Computer Science have come together to administer the new programs, a partnership that underscores how engineering education is striving to keep pace with evolving technologies.

Computer engineering “has emerged as a distinct discipline that deserves a master’s degree,” said Mark Hempstead, E03, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering who will co-direct that graduate program with Soha Hassoun, professor and past chair of the Department of Computer Science.

While graduate-level studies in computer engineering traditionally were folded into the graduate program in electrical engineering, he said, prospective graduate students in the field now are looking for greater depth and range.

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“Computer engineering is no longer an electrical engineering degree with a little digital logic added in to it,” he said. “Today, computer engineers need knowledge of both hardware and software systems—they need to know how computers actually compute.”

Hempstead said the program, by integrating training in hardware, software, and networking, speaks to how computers have permeated all aspects of society—for personal use, for corporate and government work, and for autonomous systems like self-driving cars.   

That convenience, though, heightens risks for data breaches and system failures. He cites, for instance, to the flawed hardware behind this year’s Meltdown and Spectre security vulnerabilities. “That was a case where engineers were focused on making the hardware faster and more efficient—but it was a focus that opened up vulnerabilities,” he said.

The best prevention, he said, is a broader understanding of how hardware and software systems work together. Employers are looking for engineers who understand function within the larger context of issues such as power consumption, security, and reliability.

Hempstead said the Tufts program is tailored to provide that breadth because of the natural synergies between the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Department of Computer Science. “We need to talk to each other to be successful, and that’s what’s great about Tufts,” he said. “We’re all in the same building and we’re all highly collaborative.”

The two departments are also coming together to manage and develop the master of science degree and certificate in data science, with electrical and computer engineering providing required courses including probability and information theory, and computer science handling computation and machine learning.

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The Master of Science in Data Science is designed either as a part of a 4+1 bachelor of science/master’s program, which will be accepting applications for the fall 2018 semester, or as a standalone master’s program, which will begin accepting applications a year later. In addition to core requirements, it will encompass data infrastructure and systems, data analysis and interfaces, and theoretical aspects of data, combined with a new course in the powers and pitfalls of using “big data.”

Alva Couch, an associate professor of computer science, is co-directing the master’s and the certificate program with Shuchin Aeron, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

“Data science is where computers meet decision making,” Couch said. “Data science students evaluate data to predict consequences, quantify risks, and avoid misinterpretations. That problem solving uses advanced computational methods as well as statistics, and attracts people who would never consider themselves computer experts—they just want to make better decisions.”

The program builds on the Bachelor of Science in Data Science introduced this past fall, and continues the School of Engineering’s investment in “educating the kind of people who will contribute to the next computing revolutions,” said Couch. “Honestly, I see a day when data science will be part of the core requirements for undergraduates, when it will be like statistics.”

In terms of career prospects, Couch sees immediate benefits for Tufts undergraduates who want to, for example, cap a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering with the one-year certificate in data science. But it’s also likely to attract young professionals who want the skills to advance in the global business practice of data collection, now ranging “from voice commands given to Siri and Alexa, to constant monitoring of phone location, and even smart refrigerators that monitor their contents,” said Couch.

“There is no question that the demand for people who know how to make intelligent and informed decisions from data and computing will continue to increase—there is a widespread and national need,” he said. “Regardless of the revolutionary changes on the horizon of computing, there will always be a need for people who can partner with computers in solving the world’s problems.”  

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