Leading Edge / Spring 2016
Data in Search of Scientists

With the U.S. facing a shortage of data analysts, a company led by a U of T grad is looking to bridge the gap


Big data graph

Photo by iStock

Technology is allowing businesses to gather vast amounts of data about their operations – more than ever before. And, as the flow of information grows, so does the need for analysts who can deftly interpret it.

To help meet this need, Jake Klamka (BSc 2005 UC, MSc 2006) launched Insight Data Science, a fellowship designed to help PhD graduates from any discipline adapt their research expertise into a skill set suitable for a career in data science. The program, which doesn’t pay its fellows, guides academics as they transition from analyzing data for scholarly purposes to making sense of industry trends, customer preferences and market dynamics – mining social media to predict trends in the news or in real estate, for example.

Companies across the tech, entertainment, medical sectors and more are keen to develop strategies and services informed by the trends that this analysis of “big data” can help them uncover. McKinsey Global Institute suggests that by 2018 the U.S. alone could face a shortage of up to 190,000 data scientists.

“Academics fit nicely in those roles,” says Klamka. “They’re skilled at working with data but not 100 per cent ready to step into a tech job.”

Insight fellows complete a data science project over the course of seven weeks. Some dig into problems inspired by their own research or personal interests; others work on projects suggested to them. Topics range from the serious (tools for analyzing stock volatility) to the fun (recommendation “engines” for recipes or travel). All have “a strong relevance to industry,” Klamka says.

Alumni of the program, mentors and the Insight team help fellows through the process Klamka describes as, “intense, but social.” In Insight’s final weeks, fellows can present their projects to potential employers before interviewing for a job – a plus for companies wary of gambling on a new hire without hands-on experience.

Grads from the Silicon Valley program have landed at LinkedIn, Facebook and Netflix. Insight’s New York alumni have scored placements with the New York Times, Bloomberg, MTV and NBC. Companies pay Insight when they hire its fellows, and Insight reports that the vast majority of fellows who pursue a data-related job search find a placement within four months.

Insight continues to grow from its Silicon Valley roots. It recently launched a data engineering module in New York and is expanding into other American cities. Last year, Insight kicked off a fellowship in health-related data science in Boston, a city known as an innovation hub for medicine and pharmaceuticals. “We’re hearing from biomedical companies eager to hire data scientists for genomics, for personalized medicine,” says Klamka. “The potential for impact is huge.”


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