UW News

November 18, 2020

UW introduces new minor in data science

UW News

Responding to the burgeoning amounts of data being generated across disciplines, and the development of new tools for working with these data, the University of Washington now offers a minor track for non-STEM students in data science. It’s one of the first such programs in the country.

Data manipulation and analysis is at the heart of many recent scientific advances, industrial innovations and insights into the human experience. That’s why the new data science minor will provide students the opportunities to learn data science skills and analysis while also understanding the broader contextual and ethical implications of using data.

“The goal is to combine some of the technical skills that relate to the new developments of generating and analyzing large amounts of data. And then giving students the context and the critical thinking skills to do something meaningful with that,” said Ben Marwick, an associate professor of archaeology and director of the new data science minor.

The minor was developed, in particular, for students from the arts, social sciences and humanities. While not intended to make these students competitive for jobs whose exclusive role is data science, it will allow students whose primary expertise is in a particular domain to more effectively utilize data, communicate insights based on data analysis, and interact with colleagues using common tools for data analysis.

“We imagine that a graduate of this program will be perfectly suited to ‘translating’ roles in industry, where they can understand and speak the languages of the different specialists of data science,” Marwick said. “They might be the one who is in the meeting that includes the engineers, includes the programmer, includes policymakers or people writing about it. Our graduates might be the ones who are coming up, asking the challenging questions and sort of connecting the skills of the engineer to the work of the policy maker, kind of gluing things together to help everyone be effective.”

Data science is a cross-cutting and evolving area of scholarship, Marwick said. For the purposes of the minor, the scope of data science education consists of the union of two areas: 1. Education activities that develop competency in producing, managing or analyzing data; 2. Activities promoting the synthesis, contextualization and interpretation of the data.

“Data science education must distinguish itself by closely coupling the teaching of methods, tools, applications and meta-examination of data science practice,” Marwick said.

The new minor is designed to meet the needs of a wide range of students and is open to student in any major, Marwick said. “There is no required progression through courses.”

Students can opt for flexible pathways while avoiding bottlenecks caused by popular courses. Course work is divided into three broad categories: ‘Data Studies’ that teaches foundational data literacy and explores the broader implications of the field; ‘Data Skills’ dives into basic programming, visualization, machine learning, data acquisition and management practices, software tools and qualitative analysis; and ‘Cross-cutting’ courses that explore the potential of this new field in various domains and that synthetize theories and questions in the context of a project-based learning environment. Students can declare the minor through their departmental adviser.

A minor in data science could provide students with an attractive credential for graduate programs, other degree programs and employment with non-profits, governments and companies that want employees with communication and critical thinking skills accompanied by general competence in data analysis.

For more information, take a look at the minor’s website or contact Marwick at bmarwick@uw.edu.