UT Austin Offers New Undergraduate Major in Statistics and Data Science

April 4, 2022 • by Esther R Robards-Forbes
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This article was initially published in the College of Natural Sciences News.

With statistics and data science among the fastest-growing fields in the United States, The University of Texas at Austin will offer an undergraduate degree in these fields for the first time beginning in the fall of 2022.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts job growth of more than 30% nationally for data scientists and statisticians this decade alone, and Texas industry employers have called for more undergraduate-level preparation for positions in statistics and data science. U.S. News and World Report ranked careers in those two areas 6th and 7th on a list of Best STEM Jobs.

The new degree, a Bachelor of Science in Statistics and Data Science, will be offered on a lottery basis as it prepares to grow through the Department of Statistics and Data Sciences. The major will be open to currently admitted students entering the College of Natural Sciences as incoming freshmen in the class of 2026.

"Data science is possibly the fastest-growing field in the world, and there is not a single industry or economic sector that does not deal with large amounts of data. We are excited to offer this opportunity for students interested in a quantitatively oriented degree in which they will develop a high-demand skill set for working with data in a variety of contexts and fields," said Kate Calder, chair of the Department of Statistics and Data Sciences.

Calder indicated students who secure the new B.S. degree will be well prepared to enter the workforce as data scientists and analysts — jobs that are in high demand across most industry sectors and in government — as well as prepared to enter a variety of graduate and professional programs, in areas ranging from public health to medicine to business to law.

Statisticians and data scientists use data to inform decisions and spur discoveries in a wide range of areas. They are employed in a variety of industries and public sector domains ranging from healthcare to business to agriculture. While positions exist for individuals with higher degrees, more employers — including large corporations, start-ups companies, non-profit organizations, and government agencies — are seeking bachelor's degree holders capable of performing data science and statistics skills on the job. 

The first undergraduate class in the new major will consist of approximately 50 students. Interested students who have been admitted to the College of Natural Sciences are invited to apply for consideration.

"Students in the new major will gain the important skills to work with data, including data collection, management, wrangling, visualization and more," Calder said. "They will learn about statistical inference and modeling, methods for learning about causal relationships and how to apply cutting-edge machine learning tools. So graduates are prepared to keep up with the trends in this dynamic field throughout their careers, computing and programming experience and exposure to applications are also woven in throughout the curriculum."

The curriculum also includes a "breadth requirement," requiring students to take at least four courses in a single field of study outside of statistics and data science where they may want to apply what they are learning. For example, a student interested in the applications of data science to archival processes and the digital humanities might take courses in history to satisfy their breadth requirement, or a student interested in applying learned techniques to drug discovery may take courses in biochemistry. While computing is a part of the curriculum, previous experience or coding skills are not required. 

"This is modern, forward-thinking curriculum that is innovative, flexible and well aligned with what we know about the many different career areas that students in this major can effectively enter and find success in," said David Vanden Bout, dean of the College of Natural Sciences, where students in the major will enroll. "We are thrilled to see it launch in the new academic year." 

The major complements the department's existing academic offerings, which include graduate degrees, portfolio offerings and a wide range of courses for undergraduates. The Department of Statistics and Data Sciences began eight years ago and currently offers two certificates for undergraduate students in other majors, one in Applied Statistical Modeling and the other in Scientific Computation and Data Science.


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