UCR Online M.S. in Engineering Data Science Deep Dive

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Dr. Bahram Mobasher, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at University of California Riverside talks about the Data Science course program at UC Riverside.


Ted:  Good evening.  We want to thank each of you for joining us for this webinar, Data Science Deep Dive regarding the online Master of Science in Engineering here at the University of California Riverside.  Audio will stream through your computer.  You want to make sure you have your volume turned up.  As I said, this is the online Master of Science in Engineering here at UCR.  This is an online program and we will be talking today with Dr. Bahram Mobasher.  He’s the faculty member who helped develop the curriculum in conjunction with NASA and the JPL and we will – Dr. Mobasher will discuss, uh, Data Science, the industry.  He’ll go over some of the course details.  We’ll talk about how Data Science applies to other engineering specializations and other, uh, career fields as well.  And then we’ll talk a little bit about the two of us who do enrollment for the online program and we’ll talk about admission requirements and then answer your questions.  So at this time I’d like to introduce Dr. Mobasher.  As I said he’s going to design the curriculum for the online course in Data Science.  He is an Astrophysicist by training and the principal investigator of the fellowships and internships in extremely large data sets with the funding of 4 ½ million dollars from NASA.  Dr. Mobasher, we’re very happy to have you and I will turn the presentation over to you at this time.


Dr. Mobasher:  Thank you.  Thank you for listening and joining us.  So I’m Bahram Mobasher, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at University of California Riverside.  And I’m going to talk about the Data Science course program we have at UC Riverside.  So I’m by training an Astrophysicist and I realize the need for Data Science in – in Astronomy and different subjects, different areas – and despite as how I got interested into Data Science and started myself studying it.  So the, uh – the market is quite good in Data Science.  By 2020 the number of jobs for all Data Science professionals in U.S. alone will be just over 300 thousand openings.  And that, that would increase because every, every field, every area needs data scientists at this stage.


The, uh, the – the role of data scientists have grown by a factor of 6 – by 650% over the last few years and there is a shortage of people with expertise in Data Science which consists of Statistics, Programming and Mathematics as we come to discuss it later.  And the salary of these data scientists who would be hired is over a hundred thousand as the starting salary for many of the data scientists, depending where you work so that obviously changes.  But you get the necessary training that you could be assured of having a job with a large salary.


The Data Science course here takes about a year, just over one year and with dissertation at the end of it.  So the courses in Data Science we basically try to cover different areas of the Data Science so we understand that this is a multidisciplinary field, we understand that people are from different expertise and need the Data Science techniques and use them and so we try to tailor it to fit the requirements in the community.  For that reason the course basically has different models to offer from Data Mining to Computer Vision and Statistical Computing, which introduces the Statistics which you need for Data Science, Statistical Mining Methods and Data Mining, Machine Learning and Deep Learning but again, we understand that many of the people attending the Data Science course, they are largely working and attending this online course.  And so we try to provide as much practical experience as possible in these areas both in terms of programming, statistics and machine learning, deep learning.  So the courses are combined with examples which will show the practical aspects of it.  For example, in the Machine Learning course we explain each course, go through the theory and that immediately follows by examples and computer programs which would basically code those examples.  So that by finishing it, by the end of it, students would be ready to actually start working on the topic, on the subject.


We have Data Visualization and we have Information Retrieval and Web Search and Dictated Tools so it’s basically all the areas from using the data, extracting information from the data and doing the statistical significance of the data, assimilation of the data and visualization.  All these areas would be covered in the course.  As a data scientist you’ll become expert in a number of areas that includes Computer Programming which includes python or C++ and Statistics and Simulation and Mathematical Modeling, Machine Learning, Deep Learning, Visualization, Image Processing and Scientific and Statistical Computing.  So by having the knowledge of these areas you could apply that knowledge to any field that you are, from physical sciences to medical to biological to whatever area, to financial, to whatever other areas which you wish to apply it.


And then you take the kind of positions you could get as a data scientist include, but is not restricted to, Data Officers, Chief Data Officers, Information Officers and Software Developers, Social Media Experts and E-Commerce.  You could go to Quantitative Finance, for example Financial Modeling and basically, with the information you gain, the areas you could work in basically range from Physical to Biological to Industry, Financial and Social Media and all these areas which we covered and we tried to give the information – provide information so that you could immediately get into any of those fields and apply your knowledge to those fields.  So it’s a very exciting program.


The other thing is that the – at the end you’ll have a sort of thesis as you work on the research project and it’s a possibility that we could arrange for you to have that research project done with NASA Jet Propulsion Lab.  So if you inform us that you really want to do that by the middle of your course, we’ll find the mentor at JPL and we talk to you, we put you in touch with them so that you could start working on your research project at the JPL.  So please by the middle of the course, let us know and we will arrange for that so that you find contacts in NASA in JPL and see what they’re doing and at the same time you work on a project which they are doing and they’re working.  And so this is all the components of these are ready for you to start and become a competent data scientist and apply it to whatever you’re working on.  So you’ve been receiving people from government agencies, from industry, from academia, from medical sciences, from all over the financial sectors and they’ve all been through the course learning about this because the information you learn, the materials you learn are general and you could apply it to whatever your field is.  And I’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have.  Thank you.


Ted:  Thank you, Dr. Mobasher.  Appreciate that input and we will have some questions for you a little bit later in this presentation.  I want to take just a moment and identify myself.  My name is Ted Kaake.  I’m the top picture there you see on the slide and I’m an Enrollment Advisor here at the University of California Riverside and I work specifically and exclusively with the online Master of Science in Engineering.  The other picture that you see there is David Chambers.  He’s the other one who works in Admissions for the online program and both of the – us have the same role.  And our role is primarily to get you the information that you need so that you can determine if the program is going to be the right fit for you in terms of both your background and your future goals.  We do this primarily by having a number of conversations with you and doing the best we can to answer all of your questions about the program.  Um, so we’ll help you determine if the program is going to be a good fit based on your career goals and if you want to move forward we’ll guide you through the admissions requirements and process to apply to the online Master of Science in Engineering program.


Admissions requirements.  The general requirements are we do want to see a STEM degree.  Uh, we don’t have a specific hard and fast list of prerequisite courses but if you had a STEM degree – that is Science, Technology, Engineering or Math, then in all likelihood you’ve had the necessary courses that you need to be able to get started in this program.  We like to see specifically for this specialization degrees in Mathematics, Statistics, Computer Science or Engineering, uh, as well as just about any Engineering discipline.  There are some other degrees that will fit well but you want to make sure that you’ve had, you know, Calculus and some Programming background would be helpful and Differential Equations is also very helpful.


So we want to see a STEM degree and we want to see an appropriate GPA in your upper division courses.  Specifically we’ll calculate your GPA based on the last two years of study in your program and we want to see a minimum GPA of a 3.0 or higher for this program.  We also want to see a minimum GRE score that will be, uh, you know, a GRE exam that’s been taken in the last five years, uh, and the combined verbal and quantitative must be 300 or higher and we would like to see the quantitative be higher than the verbal if at all possible.  If you’ve taken and passed the Fundamentals of Engineering exam or the Professional Engineers Licensing exam (cough) – excuse me – that will automatically waive the GRE requirement.  Those are the general admissions requirements.


Um, and you can see here on this next slide that I have listed our preferred undergraduate degrees:  Computer Science, Physics, Statistics, Business Mathematics – Business primarily if it’s been a Math-based business program — a 3.0 out of a 4.0 scale, GPA in your upper division courses, the 300 GRE and a passing score waiving that requirement.  If you choose to apply for the program a complete application package will include an application that you will complete online.  We will need official transcripts from all post-secondary institutional – uh, educational institutions.  We’ll need your GRE scores and proof – or proof of passing the Fundamentals of Engineering or Professional Engineers Licensing Exam.  We will also need three letters of recommendation.  Now we do prefer academic letters.  However we realize that if you’ve graduated more than two or three years ago, you likely don’t have those relationships still in place to request a letter of recommendation so we will accept professional letters in those situations.  We want those letters to be from people who know you on a professional basis, preferably with advanced degrees, who can speak intelligently to your ability to do graduate level work in Data Science.


There’s also two personal statements that you’ll write – one is a history statement and one is a statement of intent or purpose.  For the history statement we’re essentially looking for you to tell us how you got to where you are today.  So specifically you want to talk about significant individuals and events that have influenced you in your choice of education and career.  We also want you to address any significant challenges you’ve faced and how you’ve overcome those.  So again, in short, how did you get to where you are today and then the statement of intent or purpose is where you talk about your professional goals or, to put it another way, where do you want to go and how is this degree going to help you get there.  It’s very important for us to know that the degree is a good fit, both with your previous education as well as your future professional endeavors.  Additionally we’ll also need a copy of your resume to attach to the package.


At this point I do want to open things up for questions.  And we do have some questions that we’re going to tackle.  The first question is: How do you evaluate foreign degrees?  So we look at foreign degrees, and we have a great deal of experience with them – I myself can attest that I deal with students who earned their degrees in other countries several times a week, sometimes it seems like every single day.  So what we do is we will need from your degree-granting institution official transcripts.  What those look like vary from country to country but essentially we need a copy of your graduation certificate and a copy of your transcripts that will include the courses you took and the grades you received in each individual course.  If your institution automatically provides those things in English, then there’s not much more for you to do except get official copies of those sent directly to the online Admissions Office so that I’m going to take care of them or David can take care of them.  They do need to be in an envelope from the official institution that issued them that has never been opened.  And we prefer to have that mailed directly to us from your institution.


If your institution doesn’t by, you know, naturally provide English transcripts, we will need a copy in the original language, both the transcripts and the graduation certificate sent directly to us and then you’d want to have a second official copy sent to a translation service so that we can get a certified translation of both the certificate and the transcripts and then their evaluation should be sent directly – or their translation should be sent directly to us.


We often do get questions about, uh, do I need an evaluation from WES or one of the other evaluation services?  No, we do not require that.  We have enough experience with foreign transcripts that we can do that evaluation on our own so that’s one more expense you don’t need to go to if you choose to apply to the program.


Another question that we have is:  How many people are currently enrolled in the Data Science program?  I’ll take that question.  The last I saw, which was last week, we have 48 students currently enrolled in the Data Science specialization and of those there are six who should be graduating very, very soon.


The next question is:  Will this presentation be put online for later review?  Yes, it will.  We’re recording it now and that will be posted in a few days and David and I will make that available to you.  Next question has to do with taking the Fundamentals of Engineering or the Professional Engineering exam.  Those are not exams, and you’re probably aware of this, but those are not exams that UCR administers.  They are administered by NCEES.org.  That’s the organization that does it and they track that.  Fundamentals of Engineering exam, of course, is that first step on your way to getting your professional engineering license in your state.  So if you’re thinking about taking the FE or the GRE and trying to decide which one you want to take I would recommend that you take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, if that’s applicable to your area of specialization, you know, or your background, because that will automatically waive the GRE requirement and it looks better on your resume and will help further your career.


We have a question here from someone who wants to know:  What is the PE?  The PE, I think as I’ve already mentioned, is the Professional Engineering exam and that’s the exam that leads to licensure in your state.  Uh, here’s another question:  How do you or we determine which electives to take, considering we can only take four of them?  You want to take this one, Dr. Mobasher?


Dr. Mobasher:  Sure.  Uh, that really depends on your profession, what you’re planning to do and what you’re mostly interested in and what you find more useful in your work.  So if you are interested in individualization part of it, so Data Visualization would be the course to take or Image Processing.  If in data analysis, the Statistical or Data Search – Data Mining course.  So it really depends in what areas you want to study or expertise.


Ted:  Okay, we have another, uh, question for Dr. Mobasher:  What is the format of the final project?  Who assigns the project?  And will we be working as a team?


Dr. Mobasher:  Right.  So the project, we encourage you to do it in your – in your field and your organization, if you’re in industry or office, it would be useful if you do it – something related to what you’re doing, unless you want to change your field.  If you’re interested, again, we provide the opportunity to do it at UC Riverside under one of the faculties in different areas of work.  Or we could arrange it to have it at NASA Jet Propulsion Lab.  So it really depends, again, on your interest and what area you want to study or to research.


Ted:  Thank you very much, Dr. Mobasher.  I’ll add that from an admissions perspective we often get this question and I’ll just add a little bit about the Project Design course.  While it is a four hour course like the other courses in the program, it’s actually divided into four one-hour segments so you’ll do one hour towards this course in each of four successive quarters working on your project for a full year.  In that first quarter you’ll select your faculty advisor or, you know, if there’s a NASA scientist available for you to work with, we can arrange that, and you’ll begin having one-on-one conversations with them.  They’re going to work as a mentor with you to help you define and revise your project idea so that it fits within the parameters of the program.  By the end of that first quarter you’ll submit a formal proposal for your project.  In the second quarter you’ll continue those conversations while you do a literature review.  So there is a research component.  At the end of the second quarter you’ll submit that and at the beginning of the third quarter you’ll make any necessary revisions to your proposal, you’ll get final approval for your project and then you’ll implement your project.  I often like to say:  “That’s when the fun begins.”  In the thir – once you implement your project in the fourth quarter you’ll wrap up your project, you will write up the results, so there is some writing involved, and you’ll do a presentation.  The presentation will be done by a webcam.


The next question that we have, again this one is for Dr. Mobasher:  Sometimes we’re asked what’s the difference between Data Analytics and Data Science?  Can you explain that for us, please?


Dr. Mobasher:  Yeah, Data Science is kind of a more general thing, combining everything, contains everything.  And Data Analytics is mostly the analysis and what you do with the data.  You’re looking for correlations in the data, extracting information from the data.


Ted:  Okay, excellent.  Uh, another one for you, Dr. Mobasher – I’m not sure how well you’ll be able to answer this one and I don’t know how familiar you are with other programs but this person has asked:  How different is the teaching from other schools like Georgia Tech or Berkley?


Dr. Mobasher:  Right.  So I’m not aware about other schools but what we have is we try to cover all the areas in the Data Science, all the areas which you need, which you feel are important, given the multidisciplinary nature of the field.  So we try to cover all these and try to help students to do the project which was most useful for the work and try to connect them with, for example, NASA so that they could work with them.  And also try to provide the practical aspects of it so that by the end of the course students could go away and in practice do what they’ve learned, apply what they’ve learned to the work. And so that’s basically it.  The applied part of it is another thing.  So we cover the theory to the extent that is needed to do the applied part of the – part of the course.  By the end of each module, once you finish each course, you’ll be able – you should be able to try to program which would do that and apply it to your work directly.


Ted:   Thank you, Dr. Mobasher.  That was very helpful.  Another question we have is:  Is this degree program offered on campus?  To my knowledge we don’t offer the Data Science program on campus, is that correct?


Dr. Mobasher:  Well, we – it is the same course given to campus students and online students so in the course we have – we also have students from the campus, resident students in the course.  So it’s no difference between the actual online course and the course which is given on the campus.  Given…


Ted:  Thank you, Dr. Mobasher.


Dr. Mobasher:  …it’s given by the same instructor and exactly covers the same material and in the same classroom also resident students sit.


Ted:  Very good.  Uh, the next question asks about the admission rate for the program.  We don’t have hard statistics on that.  The program has been around now for two years and, uh, we have had some graduates but David, the other admissions representative and myself, we have a pretty good idea of what the admissions committee is looking for in Data Science applicants and so if you have a specific question about that, as to whether or not you’re admissible or likely to be accepted into the program, feel free to e-mail or call David or myself.  We’ll be happy to go over the details of that and we can talk about your specific situation, give you a good idea of whether or not you’re going to qualify for the program.  Because David and I do have a pretty good feel for what the committee is looking for.  We’re pretty accurate when we have those conversations and somewhere around 85 to 90 percent of the students that we put forward and recommend for the program are actually offered admission to the program.  Dr. Mobasher, is there anything that you want to add to that?


Dr. Mobasher:  No, it’s just if any of the prospective students have any questions or any – anything, any problem, any questions, please feel free to contact me.  Please send me an e-mail and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.  My e-mail is Mobasher@UCR.edu so if you have any question, please feel free to contact me directly.


Ted:  Well, thank you, Dr. Mobasher.  That was very generous of you to give out your e-mail address and invite direct questions.  Another question that we have is:  What does the diploma say?  Specifically does it mention that this is an online program?  And I’ll handle this.  The diploma that you’re going to receive will say that it is a Master of Science in Engineering.  It is not going to state that the program was done online but it will show that it was earned at the University of California Riverside.  We go to great lengths to ensure that the academic content is identical to that which campus-based students receive so that we can guarantee the academic integrity of the program.  As Dr. Mobasher mentioned a few moments ago, the courses are identical, the same instructor.  You’ll have recordings of live lectures that were delivered to the classroom – the campus classroom and then you’ll be able to watch those at your convenience.  You’ll have the same textbooks and resources, assignments and exams, and you’ll follow the same calendar as campus.  So we keep those individual courses identical, um, therefore we don’t feel any need to identify that this is an online program and, uh, your degree will be well respected.  The courses that you take as they’re outlined on your transcript will identify that you specialized in Data Science.


The next question we have is:  What is the work requirement for a GRE waiver?  David and I get this question quite a bit and we would generally speaking discourage you from requesting a GRE waiver if you have less than five years experience.  If you have less than two years of work experience and it needs to be relevant work experience, we would tell you:  “No, you’re definitely going to need the GRE.”  If you have between two and five years we’re going to want to talk to you about what type of work experience you’ve had and how relevant it is to the area of Data Science.  And then, of course, if you have more than five years of relevant work experience in Data Science or Data Analytics, uh, then yes, we would encourage you to go ahead and make that request for a GRE waiver.  I will say that the admissions committee is going to take a look at your entire package so when they take a look at your undergraduate degree and they take a look at your GPA, if those are borderline – if the GPA is a little borderline and the degree is not necessarily one of our preferred undergraduate degrees, you would do yourself a big favor by taking the GRE and scoring well on it.  That will help demonstrate to the committee that you can do the work that’s required in this program.


The next question that we have is:  Can we take the course on-campus and online?  At this time that’s not something that we allow.  If you are in the online program you have to take the course online.  Generally speaking, if you know you’re going to be in the area and you want to sit in on a live lecture, you do need to contact the instructor first and get permission.  Generally speaking, we discourage that.  We’ve had some logistical issues in the past with having enough seats and we wouldn’t want that to – to happen.  So that’s what we’re looking for in the program.  The program’s done online and you should take advantage of that.  It gives you a great deal of flexibility.


Let’s see if we have any additional questions.  Dr. Mobasher, is there anything that you want to add about the program?


Dr. Mobasher:  No, but, as I said, if there’s any questions, please do contact me by e-mail or you could call me but e-mail might be better.  So, uh, yeah.


Ted:  Okay.  Very good.  I – at this time we don’t have any additional questions so we’re going to wrap up.  I do want to thank Dr. Mobasher for taking time out of his very busy schedule to spend some time with us to discuss the program with you and also being willing to entertain your e-mails.  If there’s anything else that we can do for you, please either call or e-mail myself or David.  We’ll be happy to discuss the program and do our best to answer all of your questions.  But at this time I’m going to end the webcast.  Thank you, everyone.  Thank you, Dr. Mobasher and have a good evening.


Dr. Mobasher:  Thank you.