Friday Focus: 3 Universities to Collaborate on Big Data Research for Job Creation
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Three universities are launching a multimillion-dollar effort to promote collaborative research into big data and develop new career paths in data science.

In an effort to harness the full potential of big data and data scientists, a new five-year, $37.8 million initiative aims to spur collaborations among researchers at  New York University, the University of California-Berkeley, and the University of Washington and other partners pursuing data-intensive science goals.


Scientists, manufacturers and government have access to massive volumes of data in a dizzying variety of formats. Yet data have little value unless it can be captured, analyzed, and leveraged to advance research and drive decision-making.

With support from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the university researchers will work on collaborative projects to achieve three core goals:

– Develop interactions among researchers with backgrounds in specific subjects (e.g., economics, astrophysics, genetics) and methodology fields (e.g., applied mathematics, computer science, statistics) to determine how to move each of the sciences forward;

– Establish sustainable career paths, using alternative metrics and reward structures to retain a new generation of scientists whose research focuses on the multi-disciplinary analysis of big data and the development of the tools and techniques that enable this analysis;

– Build on current academic and industrial efforts to work towards an ecosystem of analytical tools and research practices that is sustainable, easy to translate across research areas, and enables researchers to spend more time focusing on their science.

The foundations’ contributions will finance efforts to establish academic careers for data scientists, promote education and training in data science, and create data-science activity hubs.

“It’s been hard to establish these essential roles as durable and attractive career paths in academic research,” Josh Greenberg, who directs the Sloan Foundation’s Digital Information Technology program, said in an announcement of the project. “This joint project will work to create examples at the three universities that demonstrate how an institution-wide commitment to data scientists can deliver dramatic gains in scientific productivity.”

The ambitious partnership among the three universities was one of several new big-data efforts announced at a White House-sponsored event this month. The event followed last year’s launch of the administration’s Big Data Initiative.

The new partnership comes at a time when many companies are scrambling to hire big-data experts. Today, “data scientist” is among the fastest-growing postings in the Indeed.com job database.

Yet, with universities reportedly under-producing the necessary skill-sets, demand for data professionals is far outpacing supply, a trend that is expected to continue as more companies look to analyze and benefit from the data they’re collecting.

“By 2018, the United States alone could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use the analysis of big data to make effective decisions,” according to McKinsey & Company.

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