Data is one of the cornerstones of our modern world, but its power still hasn’t been fully harnessed. Here, Professor JOHN ABELA talks to us about Data Science and the new, related master’s degree offered by the Faculty of ICT.
They say data is king, but a better analogy would be to call it an abandoned book: it could have a lot to teach us if we only bothered to open it. Yet most data isn’t ignored due to procrastination or boredom, but rather because there’s just too much of it. So what’s needed is a generation of Data Scientists who can crack its secrets. The new Master’s in Data Science is the first step to doing just that.
“Humankind is generating more data than it has resources to analyse and store,” says Associate Professor John Abela, one of the coordinators of this master’s degree. “99.5% of all data created is discarded without ever being analysed, and that number could grow as we estimate that by 2025, we’ll be generating 463 exabytes of data per day.”
One exabyte is equal to one billion gigabytes – a vast, almost incomprehensible number; no wonder we call it ‘the data deluge’. But while many of us may not worry about data being deleted, the reality is that it has enormous value and could help business, industry, and academia alike.
“Data science is a cross-disciplinary domain that uses various tools and techniques to analyse large amounts of data,” Professor Abela continues. “We do this through statistical, mathematical, and computational tools that help us collect, manage, curate, monitor, and analyse datasets [collections of related information]. This, then, helps organisations, institutions, and even governments improve their decision-making processes.”
To better understand this, let’s use the diaper-beer syndrome, a folktale every data scientist learns early on in their education. As the story goes, an American retail chain decided to analyse data from its warehouse and discovered a curious correlation between the sale of beer and diapers. Upon investigating, it was realised that fathers would pick up beer when they ran to the store to buy diapers. So what did the management do? It placed beer and diapers next to each other, making it easier – and more tempting – for its customers.
That story is more legend than truth, but data has been used to make scientifically-driven decisions for generations. 150 years ago, for example, English physician John Snow managed to locate the source of a cholera epidemic in London by mapping where the people who succumbed to the disease lived. It was well before computers, but it was still data-driven.
“Today, we have computers to help us, yet data science’s primary purpose remains to find hidden patterns, things we wouldn’t otherwise notice. These findings allow leaders to make decisions based on fact rather than intuition or whim.”
As its name suggests, data science operates through scientific approaches, using algorithms and frameworks to extract knowledge and insight from datasets. This means that data science is an extension of various data analytics fields, including data mining, statistics, predictive analysis, machine learning, visualisation, pattern recognition, probability modelling, data engineering, and signal processing.
“Because of this, data science is an exciting area to work in. A job in this sector will give you many amazing opportunities to expand your skillset and knowledge, as there are endless ways of applying data to find answers and help make better data-driven decisions.”
This is what the new Master’s in Data Science hopes to impart to those who enrol, who could then use their degree to join a whole array of industries, businesses, or academic circles.
“This degree is being offered after much deliberation with stakeholders,” Professor Abela asserts. “We have spent two years crafting a course that gives a grounding in statistics, mathematics, data analysis, machine learning, and much more. This offers a solid base for anyone looking to become a data analyst, data engineer, data architect, business intelligence analyst, machine learning developer, or data scientist.”
The Master’s in Data Science degree will help students achieve their potential and reach new heights in their careers and personal lives. It will also ensure that our businesses, industries, and society have data scientists who can extract and use information.
“We’re extremely looking forward to meeting and training you in this exciting field of study,” Professor Abela concludes.
The Master’s in Data Science degree opens this October, with late applications closing on Friday, 30th September 2022. While an ICT-related first degree would prove helpful, the Faculty accepts applications from people with a mathematics or computer programming background. This course lasts three academic years and is offered on a part-time basis (evenings) only.