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UC San Diego’s Online Master of Data Science Program Paves the Way Forward

Person Using a Laptop next to a Python programming book.
UC San Diego’s online Master of Data Science program is designed for working professionals seeking a competitive edge in the rapidly expanding data science industry. Photo by Christina Morillo.

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A year into its launch, UC San Diego’s online Master of Data Science (MDS) program is empowering a diverse new generation of students to make their mark on the rapidly expanding data science industry. 

As the university’s first venture into online education at the graduate level, the accessible online program allows students to earn a degree from wherever they call home. The two-year program—which has been designed with working professionals in mind—is jointly led by UC San Diego’s Halıcıoğlu Data Science Institute (HDSI) and the Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE). 

“Data science is growing as a field and businesses increasingly want data scientists who understand the full lifecycle of a project, including potential broader impacts,” said David Danks, HDSI faculty chair and professor of data science and philosophy. “The MDS degree provides exactly this type of holistic approach to the practice of data science.”

Kianni Martinez holding a flag.
Kianni Martinez photographed during her recognition by Disney's Magic Kindom as the "Honory Armed Forces Represenative of the Day." Photo courtesy of Kianni Martinez.

Kianni Martinez is one of the pioneering students paving the way as part of the program's first cohort. While Martinez had always planned to carry on her family's tradition of military service, she found herself gravitating toward data and analytics roles after graduating from the University of Central Florida. In determining the next step of her professional development, the MDS program stood out as an ideal opportunity for advancing her education on her own terms. 

When deciding to enroll in the program, Martinez noted she was impressed by the leading-edge research projects being led by the faculty who would teach her online courses. She also recognized the program as a manageable option that would enable her to maintain her full-time career as an information security specialist.  

Due to its online format, the MDS program is an accessible option for working professionals to attain an advanced degree from any location. Remote learning can also be a valuable avenue for those who are serving the military, including those stationed abroad, to actively pursue their educational goals.

Introductory classes in topics such as machine learning, data ethics and computing help students to “dip their toes” into the industry regardless of their background, explained Martinez. The courses are taught by internationally recognized experts from both HDSI and CSE who are available to connect remotely with students through email, discussion boards, video conferencing and more.

Martinez sang praises about the exceptional faculty leading the courses, such as computer science professor Sanjoy Dasgupta. “The way that he talks about his work, the research that has been done over the years, what his lab is continuing to do and just how he breaks down the topics… it was such a joy to listen to,” said Martinez. 

“I really appreciated the discussions that we were having with our professors,” she added. “I was able to take that into my day job and directly apply those discussions into how we should be shaping future data analysis, data mining, data storage and more.” 

Sharpening students’ competitive edge in the rapidly expanding data science industry, the curriculum consists of three foundational courses, three core courses, three electives and one capstone project. The foundation and core courses offer students the essential background knowledge and central material needed to develop a fundamental understanding of the program as a whole.

Meanwhile, the distinctive elective choices allow students to tailor their experience according to their interests, including options like human-centered artificial intelligence as well as data fairness and ethics. During their capstone projects, students can explore diverse areas such as music, oceanography and computer vision.

“The online Master of Data Science program provides a deep understanding of the foundations of data science, while also ensuring that graduates have practical real-world skills and experiences,” added Danks, who also teaches the program’s data ethics course.

Recently, Martinez transitioned into a new role in standing up machine learning pipelines for the Air Force. She formerly served as the Data Fabric Division Chief for the Chief Information Office at Space Systems Command out of Los Angeles. She attributes her success in both of these roles to the preparation provided by the MDS program. After she graduates, she hopes to continue advancing her career in data analysis, lead research projects under the mentorship of UC San Diego’s professors as well as earn a doctorate. 

The Fall 2024 application is now open for those interested in joining the next cohort of the MDS program. The priority deadline is March 15, 2024; final deadline is June 5, 2024. For more information, eligibility requirements and more, please visit the Master of Data Science website.

Video overview of the Online Master of Data Science program at UC San Diego.

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