Earlier this month, our partner Tableau hosted a panel in Washington, DC to discuss how data analytics is used in the workplace. The panel featured academics from leading higher education institutions, including Duke, Stanford, Lehigh, Indiana, Georgetown, and the University of South Carolina. They discussed how to prepare students for an increasingly data-driven world.

There were a few recurring points that were brought up by the panelists.

Data Analytics is Not Going Anywhere

Compared to subjects like Calculus and Algebra, Data Analytics is an emerging discipline and is rapidly changing. As a result, there’s not a universal way of teaching students how to use data.

Many universities are beginning to add data analytics courses as part of their core curriculum. Others are finding ways to incorporate application of data that is relevant to the student’s major.

Data Can Solve Problems Across Disciplines

Panelists from backgrounds like neuroscience, journalism, and startups agreed that every undergraduate program should, at a minimum, prepare students to feel comfortable working with and discussing data.

Essentially, they believe all students should become data literate. They see it as a necessary skill in our increasingly data-driven worldStudents who tend to be more quantitatively-oriented and have a passion for trying to answer complex questions should consider studying Analytics at a more advanced level.

However, they warned against immersing yourself in the subject if your only goal is to acquire skills that are “hot” at the moment. Like any modern discipline, it is more important in data analytics to acquire an adaptive analytical mindset than it is to learn specific tools or softwares.

Data Matters for Both History Majors and Programmers

To help prepare students, colleges are bringing in faculty with a more diverse skillset. For example, Lehigh University recently hired a Journalism professor with the CV of a Computer Science professor, and Brown University has computer science faculty with backgrounds in Speech & Communications.

Schools are using interdisciplinary models to train students in the essential skills that they can then apply to disciplines like bioengineering, computer science, and digital media. This approach moves past theory and into the application of data in the student’s industry.

Data is the New Normal for Managers and Executives

The most interesting theme of the discussion was how much more there is to Data Analytics than simply learning data cleaning, blending, and visualization. Of even more importance is developing the intuition on how to answer complex questions with incomplete and/or messy data.

Mike Galbreth, a professor at the business school of University of South Carolina, said USC is training a new breed of MBA grads that he described as “the data savvy manager.” The goal is to develop business leaders who are able to communicate with both a technical audience and non-technical executives.

With the increasing reliance on data to drive business decisions, it is important to keep up on emerging tools to be as effective as possible. Many professionals are finding ways to become more data literate through Master’s programs, online courses, and bootcamps.

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