Are you thinking about pursuing a master’s degree in data science, but not sure if you have the expertise or the bandwidth to pull it off?

It may not be as out of reach as you think.

For this blog, we spoke with Program Director Roger Woodard and current online MS-ACMS: Data Science students to dispel some common myths about pursuing a master’s degree in data science.

Myth #1: You Need to be a Programming Wizard to get Into a Data Science Master’s Program

Current student Sarah Baylor did not have a programming background prior to joining Notre Dame’s online master’s in data science program.

She recalls how early in the program her data science instructors helped her and some of her classmates strengthen their programming skills.

“They started us off with some really good basics. We had some awesome professors who sacrificed every Friday night for an entire semester to help,” she said. “To be able to ask questions of your professors and fellow students is a really important part of the program and really does help the learning process.”

While you don’t have to be a programming wizard, it’s still important to familiarize yourself with programming before joining a data science program.

Before classes launched in August, Sarah did a few online programming courses to get acquainted with the primary programming languages used in our master’s program.

You can also take Notre Dame’s free online Data Science Readiness Assessment to evaluate your programming competencies.

Myth #2: You Need to Quit Your Job to Get a Data Science Master’s Degree

Notre Dame’s online data science master’s program is specifically tailored to be accessible and manageable for busy, working adults.

Current student Mitch Speer works full time as a data analyst and coaches high school football.

Even though Mitch travels out of out of town frequently, he’s found that he can easily access the program, which makes it possible for him to manage his work and day-to-day life.

“I spent one class in an airport in the United Club at the Denver airport. The platform is designed so you can work on your mobile phone. All of the materials are available on different devices,” he explained. “Even if you’re not in your usual place or at home when you have class, you can still take the program with you. That’s one thing I’ve really appreciated.”

Like Mitch, Notre Dame alumnus and AT&T employee Tony Galvan finds that even as a master’s degree student he is able to remain engaged in his busy family life.

“The program aligns well with my current lifestyle, as I balance my family and work responsibilities,” Tony said.

Myth #3: In an Online Degree Program, you are Just a Number and Never Get to Interact with your Classmates or Professors

There are a lot of online master’s programs that want to enroll 1,000+ students and go for the masses.

That’s not our goal at Notre Dame.

Instead, we’ve chosen to deliver a truly student-centered learning experience.

Our Program Director Roger Woodard explained: 

“We want to keep our program intimate— about 24 students in each online class.”

“Our online master’s in data science program is designed to provide the student-centered learning experience for which Notre Dame is known, where students get to know their classmates and professors, and enjoy the personal attention they need to succeed in the program.” 

Discovering a close-knit learning community in Notre Dame’s online master’s in data science program was a nice surprise for Mitch.

“A lot of us are interacting before class, and even asking each other questions, or just shooting the breeze and talking about random stuff before the class. You still get that really personal kind of classroom experience, which I think was a really unexpected draw for me.”

In addition to developing close relationships with classmates, students also enjoy strong communication channels with their professors.

Sarah experienced this first-hand when her professors worked with her and other students to boost her programming skills. She’s delighted by the program’s personal connection with faculty and her classmates throughout the program.

“You become friends with your fellow classmates, and you get know your professors,” Sarah said. “I think it’s unique for an online program to have so much human interaction and connection, even though I don’t actually see my classmates and professors in person.”

In addition to twice-weekly synchronous sessions, in August, students meet in-person on the Notre Dame campus for a weekend Immersion to kick off the program. Students can also attend optional Immersions where they gain insights from industry experts and network with others in the field.

In fact, the Immersions are one of Ashley Klesmit’s favorite experiences about the master’s program.

“Before the program began last August, we all met at the Notre Dame campus in South Bend, IN, for a weekend. Meeting the people that I would spend the next 21 months with in person was incredibly beneficial and has made the collaboration and camaraderie unlike anything I imagined.”

“There are also optional Immersions twice a year where we all meet in person, listen to speakers, and participate in group activities. The Immersions definitely set the Notre Dame program apart from other online programs that I have seen,” Ashley explained.

Myth #4: You can Achieve the Same Quality and Depth of Learning in a MOOC or by Watching YouTube Videos as you can in a Master’s Degree

The depth of Notre Dame’s online master’s in data science was an important consideration for Mitch as he evaluated his options to make a career pivot to data science.

“I could have gone in the direction of a certificate or a MOOC,” Mitch explained. “But since I was going in a new direction with my career, I wanted a master’s degree that would give me a more in-depth learning experience then these options.”

Woodard confirmed the deep learning experience embedded in the program and explained how it sets students apart from others in the field.

“You can probably learn enough in a MOOC or YouTube videos to get a job in data science because the demand is so great. But if you’re looking for long-term career growth in data science that’s where a master’s program comes in,” Woodard said.

“Data science leaders have to be able to synthesize and go beyond just the repetition of things. It’s higher-level learning where you can think about things more deeply. That’s one of those things a master’s degree is going to give you. You’re not just thinking about topics for a couple of weeks, you’re thinking about them continually and in a synchronized way.”

Notre Dame’s online master’s in data science prepares students to be agile thinkers with strong critical thinking skills and a deep understanding of the data science process, so they can adapt and be leaders in the evolving, emerging field of data science.

What’s next?

Now that we’ve debunked four common data science master’s myths, download our student guide to learn how you can earn your degree and become a leader in the data science field.

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