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Spotlight on MSc
Course Leader Dr. Penny Holborn Reflects on the Welsh Data Science Graduate Programme
As the 2-year pilot of the Welsh Data Science Graduate Programme draws to a close, I’m eager to take time to reflect on just how far we have come on this journey. It has been both a successful and rewarding experience and one that is evidenced by the highly desirable graduates it has produced.
The programme has in that regards more than met its aim of developing graduates with a broad range of transferable skills and high-level expertise. These graduates are now joining organisations across the consortium to start the next part of their journey, of what I envisage to be very prosperous careers and we are immensely proud of what they have achieved.
However, there have been so many more outcomes of this collaboration, in particular that of the strengthening of a Data Science Network here in Wales. Throughout the programme sharing of experiences and knowledge has been at the heart of what we have wanted to promote. This knowledge transfer has come from both industry and academia with a variety of showcase events to promote the work-based projects of graduates, and also from industry to promote the opportunities available at different employers. I hope that we are able to capitalise on the relationships developed in this programme and continue to find ways to share ideas and knowledge in a sector in which data governance and confidentiality often inhibits learning from each other.
As the Academic Lead for the programme I was tasked with designing and delivering an applied masters qualification to equip graduates with the necessary knowledge and skills required to fulfil a role as a Data Scientist in industry. The opportunity to engage with organisations across the sector in an area as fast past as Data Science was always going to be demanding but would give a unique view of the tools and technologies being utilised at the forefront of applied research. There is only so much we can do from a classroom and only so much we can expose our students to without them being able to be based at an employer and gain real experience dealing with messy data and scoping out actual business problems. So this was a real opportunity to see first-hand how theory can be put into practice.
The employers within the consortium are required to continually adapt to enhance their customer base and look at new ways to improve and innovate. This presented a new challenge for us at the University of South Wales and we had to quickly adapt from the traditional MSc courses we delivered. This included content, delivery methods and assessments. What was the real selling point for me was the constant thread of work based learning, the entire programme model revolved around this ethos of “learn-apply”. In this regard, the programme is leading in the field in terms of its fit with the model of industry requirements having been developed and delivered here in Wales.
What was also unique about this programme was the emphasis on the development of professional skills. As an academic I hear all the time about graduates not being “work ready” on completing traditional taught courses because they lack vital experience, confidence, and communication skills. The key learning for many of the graduates on this course was that stakeholder engagement is vital for a successful Data Science project. If you can’t communicate your ideas and approaches and sell the real business impact, then the project is unlikely to be a success. For some, they learnt this the hard way.
Overall the opportunity to be a part of this programme has benefited me personally and professionally. It has presented a new exciting challenge but also opened my mind to new ways of delivering professional learning and teaching that is fit for business need. As a result, we have been able to strengthen the work we took across the School of Computing & Mathematics through the domain knowledge and industry links we have sustained.
What remains is now to evaluate, and look to move forward to the next exciting challenge. That of delivering a unique Postgraduate Fast-Track programme due to start in January 2021. We will of course be taking the learning of this programme into our planning and development but also will continually look at new ways to develop. This need is now more than ever vital in the current circumstances with remote online learning becoming a real necessity.