Earlier this month, Catherine Aslinger and Ken Nagle led an information session about their experiences as Notre Dame Data Science students.

Watch our information session recording or read the recap below as they answer these questions:

  • What are online classes like?
  • Are Immersions required and what are they like?
  • Can you still maintain work/school/life balance?
  • Why did you choose Notre Dame?

What are Online Classes Like?

Catherine:

We use Zoom to interact with one another so last night Ken and I were in our Data Science Now capstone project course and Professor Woodard is teaching the course and so we see his picture sitting at his desk. Ken and I are both sitting in our offices and we take the course and participate just like you’re sitting in class except Ken’s not sitting next to me.

Also, we have asynchronous content that we do during the week. This is a mixture of written materials and pre-recorded lectures in the form of videos and screen captures or whiteboard recordings.

It’s like you’re watching a professor write on a whiteboard at the front of the class but we do all of that in preparation for the live session. Then we meet together for an hour and a half, twice a week on Monday and Thursday nights. We’ll have an assignment ongoing after the class to submit and then we’ll typically have a project or sometimes an exam also along with those classes.

Are Immersions Required and What are They Like?

Ken:

Only the first Immersion is required the August right before you start classes and that one is in South Bend. Catherine and I have both been to all four of the Immersions for the program and we’re finishing up this semester with Immersions in August and January.

The August ones are on campus at Notre Dame. The January one ropes around a bit so last January we were in Palo Alto and just last month we were in Dallas. I’ve found them very useful. I think especially that first one, for us to come together as a group and get to know each other and build camaraderie, that really has been something that sets this program apart from other online programs. I feel like my classmates are my classmates in the same way as my classmates in college and grad school were. It’s something that was really important to me.

Typically, you’ll have presentations and panels from working data scientists networking opportunities with alumni and then there also some pretty cool side things usually. For example, we got to go on the field at Notre Dame Stadium in August, and we got a tour of AT&T Stadium in Dallas last month so there’s also the fun aspects of it.

Can you Still Maintain Work/School/Life Balance?

Catherine:

There’s plenty of time and resources for you to execute the content and in a way that you want to do it. Some people are really auditory learners and they can either go through the asynchronous material on their own, read, watch the videos and just listen and can move through it very quickly.

But I am a major note-taker so I like to handwrite notes and it’s one of those things where I learn by the physical act of writing and that helps me. It takes me longer to get through the same content as it would some who executes it differently but there’s still time for everyone.

I know some people have very set schedules and they’ve worked it out with themselves: “On Tuesday nights I do the asynchronous content for class. On Thursday nights you know I do this that or the other thing.” They have it very well worked out and they’re very good at sticking to their schedule.

The key point being, however it works best for you, there are ways to make it work well and still have time for other important things.

Why did you choose Notre Dame?

Ken:

There were a few things that drew me to Notre Dame.

1) I like the idea of being a part of a cohort and a class that I was going to stick with throughout the program. I’ve taken a couple of online education courses that were required of me in my teaching career and they were pretty miserable. It’s a group of people who don’t know each other going in and we didn’t know each other coming out. In this program, I liked the idea of having the same sort of sense of togetherness and being a part of a program that I had in my previous grad school experience in physics.

2) I really liked the sort of the intentional planned nature of the program. A lot of the programs that I looked at, especially online programs, looked really slapped together. Having the set schedule of courses here was something that I thought was going to be a benefit. We’ve been exposed to everything we need to know and we know how to build on that moving forward. There aren’t going to be any big holes in in our knowledge base as we move into data science careers.

3) I would say the last thing was the emphasis on communication and ethics. It’s all well and good to have technical skills to know which model to build and be able to build it, but if you can’t do it the right way, if you can’t do it while behaving ethically and if you don’t know how to communicate your ideas and your findings to people who don’t have the same background, then none of that’s really all that useful. Having that as part of the program both in terms of having specific courses in those things but also having a tied together throughout the program was really important to me.

Catherine:

As an AT&T employee there were several data science field related programs that the company was providing a very generous tuition reimbursement for and so this was not originally on my radar. When it came up it was one of those, “Well, I guess that’s probably a good idea. I should probably do this now while I have more time and this opportunity [is] in front of me and I love the field anyway.” So this was just kind of a— it was the right stepping stone, the right time.

But I was deciding between the programs that AT&T offered for tuition reimbursement and one of them happened to be where I went to undergraduate. That program was fully online but without the live session, without the cohort feel and without all of this. So even though I would be familiar with the professors and the courses, it came down to, “If I’m not going to be enjoying the process and if I’m going to spend almost two years of my life going through this process, then I need to be able to enjoy it and look back on it with the fondness not just that I have the piece of paper hanging on the wall.”

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