Saturday, April 26, 2014

From Physicist or Astronomer to Data Scientist

Data Science is a very rapidly growing field in industry, as companies scramble to get people in place who can pull useful intelligence out of (sometimes) massive amounts of data.  Who are the people with the right skills for this job?  Physicists, of course!  I get that answer from DJ Patil via an Insight Data Science white paper.  The paper quotes the former Chief  Scientist at LinkedIn as saying, “the best data scientists tend to be ‘hard scientists,’ particularly physicists, rather than computer science majors. Physicists have a strong mathematical background, computing skills, and come from a discipline in
which survival depends on getting the most from the data. They have to think about the big picture, the big problem.”

The paper goes on to show a study from the McKinsey Global Institute that reports that the “United States alone faces a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people [50 to 60% of supply by 2018] with deep analytical skills” to analyze big data.

So if you are finishing up your physics PhD and considering your options, you may very well be thinking about Data Science.  If you are, you might want to check out these blog posts from physics and astronomy PhDs who have made, or are making the transition.

Here are two brief "how-to" guides:

These two give more personal reflections on the decision:

This is all on my mind because yesterday (Friday, 4/25/2014) in our alumni seminar series we heard from Guillermo Breto Rangel, now a data scientist, who left Davis with his PhD in experimental heavy ion physics less than a year ago.  Things move fast in this area and he's already moving to a second employer.  In two weeks he is heading off to Princeton to start up a research group at Bloomberg LP. It was also just yesterday I discovered a colleague of mine, Sudeep Das, who did great work analyzing and interpreting cosmic microwave background data from the Atacama Cosmology Telescope, is now a data scientist at Open Table.

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