Data Science Education

Data Science Education

In this article, I want to discuss my experience in a formal degree program in analytics and draw comparisons with an autodidactic approach (here, defined to include books, projects, YouTube tutorials, MOOCs, and any other à la carte learning that cannot be summed to form a degree).

In this article, I want to discuss my experience in a formal degree program in analytics and draw comparisons with an autodidactic approach (here, defined to include books, projects, YouTube tutorials, MOOCs, and any other à la carte learning that cannot be summed to form a degree).

I want to say up front that, if you want to switch to a career as a data scientist from a very different discipline, like I did, then I do not think self-directed learning can compare to a formal education at a reputable institution. This opinion may not be popular, and I know that holding such an opinion is likely to result in tarring, feathering, and being deemed a “heretic” or “gatekeeper” by the High Court of Twitter.

But please, set your pitchfork down for several minutes and hear me out.

My Story

Since I was old enough to understand that a person who likes science and mathematics does not necessarily have to become a doctor or an accountant, my goal in life has been to “solve problems.” Vague, I know, but even today, I cannot came come up with a more fitting or more descriptive raison d’être.

So I did what any young girl who wants to solve problems would do: I enrolled at a local university as a chemical engineering major. After changing majors a small handful of times (I enjoyed my engineering classes but found the internships quite drab), I graduated from Drexel University in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in…chemical engineering. That’s right: I ended up back where I started.

But I had a new plan: a few short weeks after being handed my degree, I packed everything I owned into my 2004 Acura TL and moved to Atlanta, GA, to study analytics at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

There were three main reasons for my decision to enter the master’s program at Georgia Tech upon completing my bachelor’s degree: (1) I had absolutely no desire to work (and perhaps suffer bodily harm*) in a chemical plant; (2) I loved the potential of using data for decision-making; and (3) “data scientist” had recently been named the “Sexiest Job of the 21st Century,” and I wanted to be sexy.

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