Is a Master’s in Analytics Worth It?

Industry Advice Analytics

If you want to be involved in the greatest revolution of this century, then you should consider earning a master’s degree in analytics. The Information Revolution continues to reinvent every industry and field of study, and the right skills can accelerate your career.

Northeastern’s newly available Master of Professional Studies in Analytics is responding to a growing need by offering a program that blends advanced analytics from computer science and statistics, with other professional training in communications, project management, leadership, and more.

This type of degree is a strong capstone for domain-oriented bachelor’s degrees, such as biology, finance, accounting, agriculture, and sociology. What’s more, familiarity and comfort with advanced statistics will facilitate greater opportunities for those IT professionals, who are closer to the decision making. A professional’s qualifications also speak to the reliability of their work.

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The Future Value of a Master’s in Analytics

Professionals pursuing a master’s degree tend to want meaningful work and advancement opportunities. A program that delivers on how to extract and manipulate data, transform that data into information, and then that information into insights should enable you to continue advancing within the field and enter a variety of roles, such as data analyst, database analyst, program analyst, and research analyst.

While artificial intelligence (AI) disrupts numerous professions—in a good way—analytics skills will become increasingly relevant in a world with more automation and statistics-based decision making. By 2020, there are expected to be 2.7 million big data and analytics jobs available, according to IBM. Twenty-five percent of employers hiring analysts also prefer or require candidates to have a graduate degree, according to research from job market analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies—making an advanced credential increasingly important if you want to stand out and be competitive.

Programs like Northeastern’s Master of Professional Studies in Analytics are teaching the right skills. The program helps students establish confidence in their abilities to master analytics at the intersection of technology and business application and, through experiential learning opportunities, students gain hands-on experience and an appreciation and understanding for the true power of analytics.

The Type of Content to Look for in an Analytics Program

The biggest hiccup with today’s computer science and statistics programs is the shortage of practical coursework. The programs use the same content to prepare professionals for academia and the corporate world—overtly favoring theory and addressing the subjects from a probabilistic and mathematical perspective. This better prepares students for the academic world of “publish or perish.”

Instead, the objective of an analytics degree should be to teach skills that will allow an analyst to “illuminate” the world around us—to effectively communicate and lead with data-driven insights, and therefore mitigate risk in the decision-making process. A strong program should be problem-based and cover the two main data sciences: computer science and statistics, while providing professional training, such as leadership and project management. The computer science training needs to be practical and the depth of statistics training must be dense enough to support future growth.

The computer science component of a graduate analytics program should provide proper programming technique, a clear understanding of databases, familiarity with computer hardware, and experience wielding some of the newest software for problem solving.

The statistics content should then teach you how to identify a statistics problem; how to figure out the underlying assumptions; how to think about analytics-based decisions; and either how to solve the problem using software or to find the right specialist who can.

Google Flu Trends represents an example of the difficultly in recognizing a statistics problem. The project’s objective was to provide timely and far more accurate flu forecasts than the current forecasting being done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It failed, however, and in a more hazardous way. Google couldn’t accurately estimate levels of flu activity; the company forgot about the uncertainty of statistics.

Finally, this master’s degree should include professional training, which is invaluable early in your career. For analytics roles, leadership is needed to socialize findings and enact change based upon new information. While large corporations might be the first to know change is coming, executives often struggle with adapting. This is a tremendous leadership challenge with which trained analysts can help.

The right training will accelerate your command of these advanced topics and provide a foundation for continued growth and lifelong learning—a key part of Northeastern’s academic plan, which states:

Northeastern is perfectly positioned to lead a revolution in higher education that ensures the era of intelligent machines is one of expanding opportunity. An evolution based on networks: networks for lifelong learning and discovery that make people more agile, adaptable, and creative, and inspire us to be fully human.

The Need for Professors with Real Field Experience

The second biggest hiccup with some computer science and statistics degree programs is the limited practical experience of the professors preparing students for the field. Teaching should be more about imparting wisdom—and invaluable wisdom is learned in the field. To find a strong master’s of analytics program, you should look for a faculty with professionals who have real industry experience, like those at Northeastern.

After earning your master’s degree in analytics, you should be able to think statistically and use today’s emerging software, while possessing a degree of professional acumen. Choosing the right instructors can prepare you for a future of growing job opportunities and help you advance your career.

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