A review of MSc Data Science courses in the UK.
So you want to be a Data Scientist do you? And who could blame you, with big companies eager to recruit on the top salary scales and big science needing you to save the planet. But how do you become a Data Scientist?
Data Science is a new field, and the definition is still vague. Its a mix of computing, statistics, database work, graphics, AI and general knowledge. Cynically its said to be “Statistics done on a Mac”. The Wikipedia article has more on the great debate as to whether the term has any meaning at all.
I thought it might be informative to see what Data Science meant in the eyes of UK university MSc course convenors. So I did a search for “UK MSc Data Science” on DuckDuckGo and this is the summary what I’d found. I also had a quick look at some other major universities that didn’t show up in the search - and could find no sign of MSc programmes in Data Science from Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester or Liverpool on their web sites. However I don’t claim this is a complete list of Data Science MSc courses in the UK, just the ones I found. Please suggest any corrections or criticisms by posting a github issue on this site.
For each of the MSc schemes I found, I recorded its full title and the department or departments which hosted it. I looked at the syllabus and noted which particular software systems and topics were listed. The order here is basically the order of the search results. Links to the courses are as of August 2014, and may not point to the same course when you read this.
Some course programmes didn’t mention any specific software packages, but stressed the syllabus topics.
Note that I did this search and summary in August 2014. This is perhaps not the best time to get up-to-date information. Most of these syllabi were for October 2014 entry and were probably already closed to entry, and could well be in the process of updating for next year. Always check the university web site for up-to-date information.
- One-year, full-time taught MSc courses
- Entry requirement is usually a degree in Comp Sci, Maths, or Science
- Course structures are mostly three terms of lectures plus summer project
- Most MSc programmes are run purely by computing or computer science departments
- If a syllabus mentioned any programming languages, R was always one of them
- Python and Java were also well represented
- Open Source software is dominant, both in languages and systems
- Big Data and Machine Learning are emphasised on most syllabi
- Hadoop and NoSQL technologies are common
City’s MSc is run across four departments - Informatics, Maths, CompSci and Engineering. They list a wide range of software including the proprietary Matlab and SPSS packages, as well as C++ and GPU programming.
In addition to machine learning and big data, their syllabus also includes modules on research methods and professional issues in data science.
At Goldsmiths the Data Science MSc course is run by Computing. When boiled down to software and topics it seems quite similar to City’s course. One of their optional modules is in “Music Information Retrieval”.
Brunel’s course, run by the Computer Science dept, is called “MSc Data Science and Analytics”, perhaps reflecting the legacy of “Business Analytics” that Data Science may have inherited. The business analytical nature of the course is reflected in the fact that it seems to be almost a one-year course in SAS, a proprietary statistics package widely used in the business analytics field. Students have an option to obtain a SAS certification as part of the course.
The syllabus naturally has a business and innovation focus, with a project management module and a data management/business intelligence module.
The MSc in Data Science at UEL is run by the Centre for Geo-Information Studies. Although they don’t mention any programming languages or software systems, I don’t think the practical sessions could be done without some programming training.
There is a strong emphasis on statistical analysis rather than computing systems to the syllabus. It also includes a module on spatial data analysis.
Heriot Watt’s MSc Data Science programme looks like an advanced Computer Science course with a big data slant to it. Any mention of any named software is hard to find, even in the detailed course PDF documents. Several of the modules have prerequisites such as Artificial Intelligence. Statistics only appears in the Data Mining module.
Staying up in Scotland, the Data Science MSc at the University of Glasgow is run by the Comp Sci department. Its computing origins show up in the long list of optional modules from the whole CompSci field, such as AI, Cyber Security, and HCI. The course web site has a huge “Big Data” signpost. There’s no mention of languages or systems, so its a guess as to what precisely you’d learn, but that might not be a problem.
Disclosure: I work in Health and Medicine at Lancaster University, but have had no role in this course. I do know some of the people who devised and deliver it.
The course is spread over three departments - most of it is done by Maths and Stats together with Computing Science, with the Lancaster Environment Centre giving students the option to do a project in the environment. This syllabus has the strongest statistical emphasis of any Data Science course, with modules in the basics of statistical theory as well as methods. Students are taught R and Java, because these seem to be the two preferred languages of the two main departments.
At Coventry, the MSc in Data Science and Computational Intelligence is hosted by the Comp Sci department. The syllabus extends to business intelligence and fuzzy logic alongside the almost ubiquitous data mining and big data modules. There’s no mention of any languages or software systems.
Although some courses listed here need a computing degree for entry, this course accepts students with a maths or other science qualification.
Disclosure: I did my undergraduate degree here. But that was a long time ago and I have no contacts there now. But I’m sure the campus and location is still beautiful!
The MSc here is in Data Science and Analytics, run by the Comp Sci department. They will teach R and Matlab, and big data technologies including Hadoop and MongoDB. The syllabus has substantial programming content, including modules on programming for data analysis and object-oriented programming. The possible specialisms include finance.
The Sheffield Data Science MSc is brought to you by the joint effort of the Information School and Social Sciences. This perhaps explains the mention of SPSS in their syllabus alongside R. The course modules include visualisation and database design together with less quantitative options in business information, social media, and information governance.
Back in Scotland, the Data Science MSc at Dundee is another course run by the Computing department. They teach R and Java, as well as Erlang. The syllabus seems business-oriented, including a module on business information systems, and strong database focus, and visualisation. There’s also an advanced statistics module alongside the usual data mining module.
Warwick’s course is an MSc in Data Analytics. Run by Comp Sci, it also encompasses sensor networks, signal and image processing, IT security and other modules not often found in Data Science courses. The languages and systems they use isn’t given.
The department of Medicine at Swansea offer an MSc in Health Data Science. In this syllabus the modules are all targeted towards applications in healthcare and medical data analysis. The course includes Linked Data Analysis and Visualisation. Alongside business and science applications, health is another big growth area for data scientists as more health data is routinely collected.