New Master’s Program in Data Analytics

The degree offered by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences is designed for both full-time students and working professionals
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“Our objective is to make students smart consumers of data,” said Jeffrey Zabel, a professor economics. Photo: Depositphotos
July 25, 2018

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A new master’s degree program coming next fall reflects the university’s increasing focus on preparing students for rapidly growing career opportunities in data analysis. 

The Master of Science in Data Analytics at the Graduate School of Arts and Science (GSAS) will span the sciences, arts, and humanities and give students the skills to drive strategic business decisions. Recruitment will open this fall, with enrollment beginning in fall 2019.

Designed for full-time students and working professionals, the program—which students can complete in one to two years—will require ten courses. Those include a new introductory course; four courses on analytic and statistical techniques (the curriculum presumes some prior experience with statistics and math, including calculus), two courses that focus on professional competencies, and a series of discipline-related electives, such as courses in economics, data visualization, and coding. The program will culminate with an experiential capstone project in which students apply what they’ve learned within a specific discipline. 

The new degree program comes as the university builds data studies into its academic and research enterprise. Tufts is advancing plans for a new Data Intensive Studies Center and last fall held a data symposium. The School of Engineering this year also launched an undergraduate and a graduate program in data science. And the practical application of data analysis to illuminate ideas and theories in the humanities is already part of the School of Arts and Sciences curriculum; the Department of Classics offers, for instance, a Master of Arts in Digital Tools for Premodern Studies.  

Ellen Marie Murphy, director of program development for GSAS, said the data analytics field “is expanding rapidly and skilled professionals are in high demand.” While statistics has long been the go-to discipline for illuminating patterns and trends in data, the new program takes a multidisciplinary approach and “brings together a lot of our existing expertise in data analysis into a very relevant and attractive program,” she said.  

Jeffrey Zabel, a professor of economics, is a member of a working committee of faculty drawn from physics, mathematics, classics, economics, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) at Tufts. He’s developing the program’s introductory course, which will be team taught.

“Our objective is to make students smart consumers of data,” said Zabel, who teaches econometrics, the application of statistics and data analysis to economics. “We all know how data can be manipulated. Students need to be skeptical of data evidence and to be able to dissect it to understand just how believable the results are. These are critical skills as we come to rely more and more on data.” 

In looking to creating the program, Murphy said, “we were looking at a two-branched, data-focused pathway,” she said. One, like the new data science degree program launched at the School of Engineering, is more heavily focused on computer science, while the School of Arts and Sciences wanted to explore the “more statistical, mathematical, and analytical path,” she said. “We want them to complement each other.”

One distinct feature of the Tufts data analytics program is its professional advisory board, made up of Boston-area data scientists and strategists from Fidelity, Microsoft, Facebook, Booz Allen Hamilton, and GSK, Murphy said. They will provide feedback and advice to a faculty steering committee and help develop internship possibilities.

“We’re taking advantage of a direct connection to businesses in Boston to make sure we’re responsive to what businesses are looking for,” said Murphy. “We will value their feedback as the program evolves. If we find that competencies are not being met, we will create them.” 

The curriculum, added Murphy, reflects feedback from professionals in the field, who said “they were very concerned about the ability of data scientists to communicate clearly what is in the data,” said Murphy. “We will be incorporating courses that address those skills that are required to be successful in the workplace.”

Zabel is eager to get the program started, and champions it as a further expansion of how Tufts works best. “We offer a great education for our students and we encourage its applications in the real world,” he said. “We give students tools that are broad-based and that they can take away and apply to many different settings. We teach them how to think critically and work in groups and think outside the box—all those things are crucial and are what employers want.”

Laura Ferguson can be reached at laura.ferguson@tufts.edu.

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