Data is often referred to as the new gold because it has become an essential raw material.

From smartphones to traffic cameras to weather satellites, modern technology devices are collecting massive amounts of data that support everything from cancer research to city planning.

The importance of data in today’s world spans all industries including healthcare, education, travel, and government. Business decisions are made based on data and improving customer experiences relies on data. It is also critical for our national defense. Simply put, today’s world runs on data.

But unlike gold, data does not have value in its raw state. To tap into the power of data to make smart, data-driven decisions, it has to be collected, cleaned, organized, and analyzed.

This is why data is also called the new oil, which also needs to be extracted and refined in order to have value.

That’s where the field of data science comes in.

What is Data Science?

Data science is the study of data to extract meaningful insights for business and government.

People who pursue a degree in data science study math and computer science. Their career path includes jobs where they handle, organize, and interpret massive volumes of information with the goal of discerning patterns. They also construct complex algorithms to build predictive models. Data science tasks include data processing, data analytics, and data visualization.

Data scientists are on the leading edge of innovation and emerging technology, including machine learning and artificial intelligence, which relies on a significant amount of digital data to generate insights.

Careers in data science are growing fast. Data science jobs are in high demand and can be found in nearly every industry. A few of the most common data science jobs include:

  • Chief Data Officer
  • Artificial Intelligence Engineer
  • Data Scientist
  • Data Engineer
  • Machine Learning Engineer
  • Software Engineer
  • Data Modeler
  • Data Analyst
  • Big Data Engineer

Why is Data Science Important?

Just as data is the new gold and the new oil, data is also the new currency. For businesses, the insights derived from data science are essential for data-driven decision-making. They guide everything from the product lifecycle to fulfillment to office or warehouse locations. Data scientists provide information that’s critical to a company’s growth.

The benefits of data science extend beyond business. Government agencies from the federal level down to state and local entities also rely on data insights for emergency planning and response, public safety, city planning, intelligence gathering, national defense, and many other services.

Another reason why data science is important? It taps into the potential of artificial intelligence, which can improve productivity and efficiencies, provide stronger cybersecurity, and personalize customer experiences. To be effective, artificial intelligence relies on a lot of data, which is often pulled from massive data repositories and organized and analyzed by data scientists.

5 Reasons to Study Data Science

The field of data science is a great career choice that offers high salaries, opportunities across several industries, and long-term job security. Here are five reasons to consider a career in data science.

1. Data Scientists Are in High Demand

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, data scientist jobs are projected to grow 36% by 2031, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. Data science careers also offer significant potential for advancement, with the relatively new role of chief data officer becoming a key C-suite position across all types of businesses.

Because the high-demand field requires a special skill set, professionals with data science degrees or certificates are more likely to land a desired position in a top company and enjoy more job security.

2. Careers in Data Science Have High Earning Potential

That high demand also leads to higher salaries relative to other careers. According to Glassdoor, the estimated total pay for a data scientist in the United States is $126,200 per year.

New data scientists can expect starting salaries of around $100,000 per year, with experienced data scientists earning more than $200,000 per year. The average annual salary for chief data officers is $636,000, with top data executives clearing more than $1 million a year.

The salary potential is only expected to grow as data drives artificial intelligence innovations.

3. Data Science Skills are Going to Grow in Value

Think about this — smartphones, drones, satellites, sensors, security cameras, and other devices collect data 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Data is also being generated by organizations from every project, product launch, customer sale, employee action, and other business activities.

Then think about data that comes from every financial transaction, healthcare interaction, scholarly research project, and other initiatives outside of the business world. Data is continuously being generated from multiple sources for multiple uses — and that isn’t going to stop.

Turning all of that data into actionable insights is a unique, high-demand skill that will only grow in value as more data is generated. As technology advances, data scientists will be at the forefront of new breakthroughs and innovations. It’s an exciting and evolving career.

4. Data Science Provides a Wide Range of Job Opportunities

Every business, government agency, and educational institution generates data. They all need support in gaining insights from that data. Having a degree or certificate in data science gives people the flexibility to work in the industry that interests and inspires them.

5. Data Scientists Can Make the World a Better Place

While data scientists can offer insights to help businesses grow, they can also offer insights to help humanity. Data science careers include unique opportunities to make an impact on the world. Consider these initiatives where data science is playing a significant role:

  • Climate change. To support climate control measures that could lower carbon dioxide emissions, the California Air Resources Board, Plant Labs, and the Environmental Defense Fund are working together on a Climate Data Partnership to track climate change from space.
  • Medical research. The National Institutes of Health is working to improve biomedical research through its NIH Science and Technology Research Infrastructure for Discovery, Experimentation, and Sustainability Initiative, which enables access to rich datasets and breaking down data silos to support medical researchers.
  • Rural planning. The U.S. Department of Agriculture launched a Rural Data Gateway to support farmers and ranchers in accessing the resources they need to support everything from sustainable farming practices to how to lower energy costs.

Other data-driven service-oriented initiatives include making cities safer for pedestrians and bikers, supporting affordable housing for underserved communities, and improving access to social services. Hear about other initiatives that are tapping into the power of AI for good in this fireside chat with Harvard Extension School’s director of IT programs, Bruce Huang.

Study Data Science at Harvard Extension School

If you are ready to start, advance, or pivot to a career in this exciting and growing field, Harvard Extension School offers a Data Science Master’s Degree Program.

The program focuses on mastering the technical, analytical, and practical skills needed to solve real-world, data-driven problems. The program covers predictive modeling, data mining, machine learning, artificial intelligence, data visualization, and big data. You will also learn how to apply data science and analytical methods to address data-rich problems and develop the skills for quantitative thought leadership, including the ethical and legal dimensions of data analytics.

The program includes 11 courses that can be taken online and one on-campus course, in which you develop a plan for a capstone project with peers and faculty. In the final capstone course, you will apply your new skills to a real-world challenge. Capstone project teams collaborate with industry, government, or academic institutions to explore the possibilities of using data science and analytics for good. Recent capstone projects include:

  • Improving the climate change model used by NASA.
  • Developing a tool that combines aerial imagery and advanced georeferencing techniques to assess damage in disaster-stricken areas.
  • Using computer vision and video classification to develop a crime detection system for analyzing surveillance videos and identifying suspicious activities, contributing to enhanced public safety and crime prevention efforts.
  • Predicting patient MRI scans in a hospital system to optimize resource allocation and ensure efficient patient care delivery.
  • Streamlining the medical coding process to reduce errors and improve efficiencies.

You can also earn a Data Science Graduate Certificate through the Harvard Extension School. In this certificate program, you will:

  • Master key facets of data investigation, including data wrangling, cleaning, sampling, management, exploratory analysis, regression and classification, prediction, and data communication
  • Implement foundational concepts of data computation, such as data structure, algorithms, parallel computing, simulation, and analysis.
  • Leverage your knowledge of key subject areas, such as game theory, statistical quality control, exponential smoothing, seasonally adjusted trend analysis, or data visualization.

Four courses are required for the program and vary based on the data science career path you are interested in pursuing.

If you are thinking about advancing your career or making a career change into the growing data science field, learn more about the Data Science Master’s Degree program or the Data Science Graduate Certificate program including class requirements, tuition, and how to apply.