By 2018, the study said, there could be a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000
workers in a field the Globe and Mail described as the “fastest-growing job
market you’ve never heard of.”
Dr. Matwin agrees that many doctoral students and postdoctoral fel-
lows drawn to Dalhousie’s Institute for Big Data Analytics are looking to
equip themselves with skills that will be in high demand in the future.
To that end, Dalhousie, as well as Université de Montréal, are developing
proposals for a master’s program in big-text data as well as an under-
graduate computer science degree with a specialization in big data. SFU,
meanwhile, recently announced that its school of computing science is
offering a new, four-semester professional master’s program in big data
starting this fall.
Universities are marketing these programs as interdisciplinary in nature. Dalhousie’s big-data students can work on applications in business
or medicine. In U of T’s information faculty, the students are about evenly
split between those who want to learn the technical elements and those
who are interested in its potential applications, says Dr. Andritsos. These
students, from fields such as engineering, architecture and the social sciences, “are excellent at figuring out what stories the data is telling.” Some,
he says, want to pursue academic research and some want to get involved
with start-up companies.
What’s clear is that the big-data skills that students acquire through
these programs are increasingly valuable outside academia. Dr. Matwin
says the practical experience Dalhousie’s new institute can provide is extremely important for the growing private- and public-sector jobs that
rely on the analytical skills the students are learning. “We are working to
meet the demand,” he says.
John Lorinc is a Toronto-based journalist who frequently writes about urban issues.
aircraft. The institute has also embarked on an environmental monitoring project with the World Wildlife Fund.
Ryerson University has partnered with OMERS Ventures and the
Ontario Centres of Excellence to launch a technology-oriented accelerator known as One Eleven, says Mohamed Lachemi, the university’s
vice-president, academic. Based in a Google Canada facility in downtown
Toronto, it will provide space and facilities to entrepreneurs with start-up ventures related to big data. Besides hiring two research chairs and
establishing a master’s program in big data, Ryerson plans to seek senate
approval to offer a certificate in big-data analytics through the Chang
School of Continuing Studies.
Dr. Lachemi recently found himself discussing the potential of using
big-data analytical techniques with an administrator at a Toronto hospi-
tal. “They don’t necessarily have the infrastructure to do this,” he says. “If
we create a platform with people from all different disciplines around
the table, we can address problems in a better way.”
Meanwhile, research teams at U of T, University of California Berke-
ley and New York University’s Centre for Urban Science and Progress,
or CUSP, are looking at using repositories of “urban informatics” – from
311 service calls to real-time traffic-sensor signals to energy-consumption
levels of buildings – to develop models that help decision makers deploy
resources more efficiently and make large-scale infrastructure invest-
ments. Research of this kind may help answer the question of how to
improve urban quality of life.
CUSP will offer graduate degrees in urban data science and will
sponsor research that uses the city itself as both a lab and a source of
raw material. One team at the centre will deploy sensitive sound-de-tection equipment around Manhattan to develop topographical maps of
the city’s infamous noise levels. Aristides Patrinos, CUSP’s deputy director for research, says the analysis could be used to develop strategies to
mitigate noise pollution in residential areas and around schools. “These
[measures] are not huge leaps of faith,” he says.
Many students are drawn to the field of big data because it offers
them a chance to get involved in an emerging knowledge-intensive profession. When it launched its master’s program on big data, Simon Fraser University cited a 2011 McKinsey Global Institute study that projects
huge demand for people with skills in big-data management and analysis.
“Students from fields such as engineering,
architecture and the social sciences are
excellent at figuring out what stories the
data is telling.”