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The People that Drive Value for the Best Data Science Master’s Programs?

June 29, 2021

Conventional wisdom states that success is a matter of who you know, not what you know. In data science, success hinges on both. Ninety percent of data scientists have advanced degrees — suggesting a discipline with high respect for formal education — but a Master of Science in Data Science (MSDS) isn’t enough to launch a career. Relationships drive opportunity and innovation, and building a robust professional network is equally as important as developing a knowledge base of technical data science skills. To optimize your journey towards success in this field, it is essential to choose the best data science program that caters to both academic excellence and networking opportunities.

Gauging the intangible value of various degree programs isn’t as simple as weighing tuition costs against future earning potential. The people behind a program drive the return on investment of a degree. Mindful of this, Stevens Institute of Technology does everything possible to facilitate virtual relationship-building between the distinguished faculty leading its online MSDS (and all other graduate degree programs) and the diverse cohorts of career-focused students, who eventually become engaged alumni.



“Who’s teaching?” is the first question to ask. The best teachers are doers. Stevens’ data science faculty includes experts in stochastic optimization and cryptography. Students learn from highly regarded leaders, such as Rizos Sklinos and Shusen Wang, who are investigating and developing future-forward tech in data science and data engineering.


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Faculty access is another critical variable. In theory, class sizes in online master’s in data science programs are limited only by the capabilities of digital learning platforms. However, StevensOnline graduate programs take a conservative approach, similar to that of highly selective on-campus programs. The student-to-faculty ratio is just 25:1, which is small enough to ensure distance learners develop relationships with their professors and other Schaefer School of Engineering & Science faculty and staff.

What happens behind the scenes? To say that data science is a rapidly evolving field is an understatement, and it’s not enough for professors to have backgrounds in data analysis, data mining, information systems and computational methods. For example, industry trade journals regularly publish Stevens’ Associate Professor Michael Zabarankin‘s ongoing research into risk management and optimal control, continuous and discrete optimization, mathematical physics and variational principles. Thought leaders such as Zabarankin are at the helm of the best MSDS programs, tackling real-world data science problems. They also bring relationships and partnerships with top employers and influential organizations in data science. StevensOnline has a track record of placing MSDS graduates at notable tech companies such as Amazon and financial firms such as Bank of America, in part because of faculty connections.

You will advance further and more quickly if you acknowledge the career-enhancing power of relationships in graduate school and beyond.

A final metric to consider is representation. Women are notoriously underrepresented in data science, and Stevens proactively promotes gender parity. Department of Mathematical Sciences Chair Darinka Dentcheva is an acclaimed researcher in stochastic optimization and control using mathematical models of risk and their applications, and 29 percent of current faculty are women. The best professional networks are diverse.


Top MSDS programs nurture relationship-building through group coursework and project work so students can develop career-boosting professional networks. Stevens’ Master of Science in Data Science program stands out when it comes to peer-to-peer engagement. Highly intelligent, motivated students bring years of professional experience solving large-scale, real-world problems to each cohort. All data science students begin the master’s degree program (whether online or on-campus) ready to learn from one another. Stevens is also intentional about fostering interdisciplinary collaboration through cross-departmental research by faculty and students. Innovation and entrepreneurship events unite MSDS, bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. candidates on experience-building projects spanning healthcare, cybersecurity, engineering, data science and analytics.


Stevens attracts professionals who already have significant computer science, analytics and data science experience, which means the university’s global alumni network is substantial. Students who connect and work together after graduation can accomplish great things — especially given the postgraduate support alumni receive. Graduates of the part-time, online data science program receive the same job counseling, networking assistance and support as full-time students studying on campus. Online Master of Science in Data Science graduates can join the same alumni groups, connect with potential employers, meet with career advisors, and participate in events and workshops that provide new chances to make valuable professional connections.


Top MSDS programs support ongoing research in data science, and in some cases, students can participate in those research projects. Stevens Institute of Technology filed 25 provisional patents in 2020, and graduate students contributed to some of that work — gaining valuable insights into the forces driving the evolution.

Even if research isn’t among your academic priorities, it is still worth knowing how faculty research can shape the future of data scienceSamantha Kleinberg of the Department of Computer Science at Stevens, for example, is looking for more efficient ways to analyze unwieldy time-series datasets generated by neurological intensive care units. Her work has applications outside medicine and may eventually influence data science in other disciplines.


Program content and format are crucial factors to consider when choosing the Best Data Science Program. The top-notch data science master’s programs are known for their highly technical curriculum, which places a strong emphasis on mathematics. These programs are typically offered by esteemed engineering or computer science departments. At StevensOnline, while it is not a requirement for MSDS applicants to be proficient in programming languages and platforms like Python, R, and MATLAB before enrolling, many incoming students are already comfortable with these tools at the time of application. Moreover, most individuals pursuing a graduate-level data science degree have prior experience with essential mathematical concepts such as multivariable calculus, linear algebra, probability and statistics. They are also familiar with popular frameworks like Apache, Hadoop, Hive, Mahout, as well as data visualization tools such as D3.js and Tableau. These foundational skills and knowledge contribute to a well-rounded education in the field of data science.

Core data science courses in top MSDS programs cover topics such as:

  • Advanced optimization methods
  • Algorithm development
  • Analysis review
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Big Data
  • Cloud computing
  • Data management
  • Database systems
  • Deep learning
  • Distributed systems
  • Dynamic programming
  • Languages such as Python and SQL
  • Linear algebra
  • Machine learning
  • Natural language processing
  • Predictive analytics
  • Probability theory
  • Quantitative analysis
  • Reinforcement learning
  • Statistical methods


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Programs geared toward more experienced students are often formatted to meet the needs of busy professionals. The flexibility of the Best Data Science Program, Stevens’ 100 percent online MS in Data Science, is ideal for those students who plan to continue working in full-time jobs as they pursue their degrees. Most distance learners enrolled in Stevens Institute of Technology’s Charles V. Schaefer, Jr. School of Engineering & Science complete the 30-credit, 10-course online MSDS in five semesters by taking six credit hours (or two classes) per semester. This approach ensures that the commitment involved is manageable, even for busy professionals. Students can dedicate approximately nine to 12 hours per class per week to their studies, which includes around one-and-a-half hours of live sessions, five hours of self-paced coursework, and three to five hours of homework, project work, and study time.

Ultimately, the value of a master’s in data science remains the same, whether it is earned part-time, online, or on-campus. However, it is crucial to choose the Best Data Science Program that prioritizes not only the curriculum but also the people. Often, the human side of data science can be easily overlooked, despite delving into the offerings of MSDS programs. Acknowledging the career-enhancing power of relationships in graduate school and beyond can significantly propel your advancement and expedite your success.