New graduate certificate program opens up avenues into growing, popular field of data science

KINGSTON, R.I. – Feb. 12, 2021 – With the rise of big data and its growing use as a tool in decision-making across many industries, the need for data scientists with the skills to analyze and extract meaning from digital information is booming.

In the past five years, Glassdoor has ranked data scientist as one of the top 10 jobs in the U.S., based on median base salary, the number of active job openings, and employee satisfaction rates, and LinkedIn listed the field third in the top 15 emerging jobs in the U.S. in 2020. Indeed recently listed about 134,000 open jobs for data science or data scientist, and placed the average salary in the field at $123,000.

“Data scientists work with big data and also develop tools for finding hidden patterns in data, such as handwriting recognition. Data science is used in so many businesses and industries and is now considered a third pillar of data-enabled science on top of theory and experimentation,” said Nancy Eaton, a University of Rhode Island professor of mathematics. “There’s so much data that you need new techniques, from the disciplines of computer science, mathematics, and statistics, to learn what you can from it. What can I do with all this data that I couldn’t do before? The possibilities are endless. The data scientist is often the storyteller presenting data insights to decision makers in a way that is understandable and applicable to their interests.”

To prepare students to be those storytellers, the University of Rhode Island is launching a new online graduate certificate program in data science that will open this growing field to many who are looking to start or advance careers in data-driven industries and sciences. Offered through URI Online, the program is now taking applications with classes beginning May 4.

“With the growth in this field, the need for this program has never been clearer. This is one of the first online graduate certificate programs in data science offered by an accredited university,” said Eaton, director of the program. “This is a great vehicle for career advancement because it requires less time and resources than a master’s degree.”

The 15-credit program provides students with a full grasp of the process of data science, from collecting, storing, accessing, and cleaning data, to analyzing data to solve data-driven problems and presenting that information to decision makers using easily understandable graphics. The certificate program builds on URI’s expertise in the area, including a bachelor’s program in data science and faculty who are part of URI’s Big Data Collaborative who have helped create the program’s courses.

The certificate program is designed for students with undergraduate degrees coming from any field, allowing a pathway into this growing career no matter what their undergraduate degree is in. Students considering the program should have had at least a college course in each of math (calculus or linear algebra), statistics, and programming.

Over its five courses, the program introduces students to basic methods and tools for data acquisition, cleaning and aggregation; a wide range of mathematic tools needed to solve practical problems in data science; multivariate statistical learning; and machine learning methods. Capping the program is a data-driven research project during which students use the theoretical knowledge that they’ve acquired in the program to complete a research project of their choosing in a realistic setting.

“This unique capstone course takes advantage of our many researchers who are doing data-driven science across many disciplines,” Eaton said. “It will expose students to real-world data being used in groundbreaking research at URI.”

Throughout the program, one key area students will learn about is data visualization, the use of graphics to present data-driven findings.

“Visualization and storytelling are key to data scientists. They need to present aspects of the data to various audiences so they can grasp the value of the information quickly,” said Eaton. “They might be presenting graphics to one group at their company one week and putting together an infographic for shareholders the next. So, students will learn how to display the data in different formats.”

The online certificate program is delivered in asynchronous, seven-week sessions each semester, providing a flexible format for domestic and international students and working professionals. With all courses offered each semester, students have the ability to start the program at any time and finish it in under a year.

To learn more about the graduate certificate in data science, contact Nancy Eaton at

URI Online provides students and professionals access to a URI education anywhere and anytime across the globe, offering fully-online undergraduate degree completion, graduate and certificate programs in such areas as communications, health care management, cybersecurity, supply chain management, GIS and geospatial technologies, digital forensics, and cannabis studies.