How to Become a Data Scientist

TBS Staff Writers
Updated October 11, 2023
Data scientists analyze data to help organizations run smoothly, creating algorithms to organize data and communicating data analysis results.

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Essential Career Information

2018 Median Pay$118,370 per year / $56.91 per hour
Number of Jobs, 201831,700
2018, wage of lowest 10 percent$69,230
Employment Change, 2018-28+5,200
2018, wage of the highest 10 percent$183,820
Job Outlook, 2018-2816% (Much faster than average)
Typical Entry-Level EducationMaster’s degree

Source: BLS

Alternate Job Titles

  • Data analyst
  • Data scientist
  • Senior data scientist
  • Data engineer
  • Business intelligence manager
  • Data Architect
  • Enterprise Architect

What Is a Data Scientist?

A data scientist is an expert in collecting, organizing, and analyzing information. Also known as data analysts, data architects, and data engineers, data scientists help organizations operate efficiently and effectively, creating algorithms to organize data and communicating data analysis results to decision-makers. This guide outlines how to become a data scientist, including education and experience requirements and career advancement opportunities.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Does a Data Scientist Do?

Data scientists analyze data and write algorithms to help organizations run efficiently and make informed decisions. They also develop new ways to manage and display data. In healthcare, data scientists analyze medical data to identify effective ways to treat diseases. Data scientists also work for the government, analyzing data to answer questions about public services or government spending. Companies in a variety of industries also rely on data scientists to make strategic decisions about sales strategies, consumer targeting, and marketing.

Data scientists can pursue several specializations. Some data scientists specialize in data acquisition, while others focus on maintaining data using data architecture. Data scientists can specialize in processing or analyzing data, which can include predictive analysis, data mining, and data modeling. In many specializations, data scientists must effectively communicate their findings to others.

In addition to strong analytical skills, data scientists rely on critical thinking and logic skills to solve problems using data. They also benefit from a detail-oriented approach to identify any patterns or inaccuracies, and communication skills to explain the conclusions of their analyses.

Become a Data Scientist

Most data scientists hold a master’s degree, though the federal government employs some data scientists with only a bachelor’s degree. Data scientists typically major in computer science, information technology, or a related field. Many programs incorporate a data scientist internship to build work experience. Data scientists can also earn professional certification to advance their careers.

Certificate Programs

Many colleges and universities offer undergraduate and graduate data science certificates; however, without a higher degree, a certificate likely does not meet the requirements for many data scientist positions. At the undergraduate level, students take foundational classes on topics like statistics, programming, and data analysis. At the graduate level, students take classes on advanced topics such as data modeling, machine learning, and data visualization.

Certificate programs build strong data investigation skills in areas like data analysis, prediction, and communication. Students may also gain skills in areas such as algorithm design, statistical quality control, and game theory. In addition to on-campus opportunities, students can pursue an online data science certificate. The flexibility of online learning formats benefit students with work and family responsibilities.

Bachelor’s Degree Programs

A bachelor’s degree prepares students for graduate study as well as some entry-level data scientist positions. Prospective data scientists can pursue a bachelor of data science or a bachelor’s degree in related disciplines, like statistics, data analytics, or information science.

During a bachelor’s program, students complete major coursework and general education requirements in math, English, and communications. Students interested in data science careers should ensure their prospective program includes courses in statistics, data analytics, information science, and business.

Most bachelor’s degrees take four years for full-time students to complete. Students can pursue a data science bachelor’s degree online for maximum flexibility and accessibility. Online programs offer flexible schedules and access to top schools across the country without the need to relocate. Graduates with a bachelor’s degree can pursue some entry-level data scientist jobs or a master’s degree.

Master’s Degree Programs

A master’s degree represents the entry-level education requirement for most data scientist jobs. Prospective data scientists can choose from several relevant master’s degrees, such as a master’s in data science, a master’s in business analytics, or an MBA with a concentration in data analytics.

Many programs incorporate courses on topics like applied statistics, data science mathematics, data modeling, and database systems. Students may also take courses in data engineering, big data analytics, and marketing analytics. Depending on the program, graduate students may complete an internship to build hands-on skills and expand their professional network.

A master’s degree in data science generally takes two years of full-time study to complete. An online data science master’s degree helps students balance school with work and family obligations. Many top data science master’s programs offer online options.

Doctoral Degree Programs

A doctorate in data science qualifies graduates for the most advanced roles in the field, such as president of data science. Additionally, some career paths, including in academia, require a doctorate. For example, most tenure-track professors need a doctorate.

Students can pursue a Ph.D. in computer science, a doctor of science in information systems, or a Ph.D. in data science. Doctoral students examine topics like applied mathematics, statistics, computer science, and data science. After several years of coursework, students must typically pass comprehensive exams and research, write, and defend a dissertation.

Data science doctoral programs generally take around five years to complete. Some programs offer a Ph.D. in data science online, which may accelerate the time to completion. Most programs require applicants to hold a master’s degree for admission.

Professional Certification

Professional certification helps data scientists demonstrate their skills and stand out in the job market. Several organizations offer professional certifications. Cloudera, for example, offers the CCA data analyst credential for candidates who pass an examination.

Certifications generally set minimum education and experience requirements. Candidates must also pass an examination and pay a fee to earn certification. Certified data scientists typically must maintain their credentials by meeting continuing education requirements within a specified timeframe.

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