11 April 2017

New focus area: Applied Data Science

Data is everywhere. And everyone wants to use it

Utrecht University is launching a new focus area: Applied Data Science. This is not only to bring together Utrecht University researchers working on data science, but also because there is a growing need in society for data analysis. Coordinator of the focus area, Peter van der Heijden, Professor of Statistics: “The data mountain continues to grow and the end is nowhere in sight. This growth is accompanied by an increasing demand to be able to analyse data.”

Van der Heijden was actually working with computer science colleagues on the development of a new Master's programme based on data science. After a discussion with the Rector, the way was cleared for the launch of a new focus area. A Master's programme in Applied Data Science is also set to be launched in the near future. Van der Heijden: “It will be a one-year Master's programme. If we make it into a two-year programme, there is the risk that students will be poached by companies halfway through. That's how popular data analysts are.”

More and everywhere

This encapsulates the need for the new focus area: there are increasing amounts of data, everywhere, and it needs analysing. To highlight the ever-growing role of data, the Utrecht University statistician points to Google, a company that does unparalleled work in data collection and has grown to become the world's most valuable company in the space of twenty years. Van der Heijden: “But closer to home, in our municipalities, data is also playing an increasingly important role.” For instance, municipalities are focusing on becoming smart cities: cities in which lampposts not only provide light but also collect information on such things as air quality. “Smart cities generate so much data in this way, and it all needs to be analysed. We can play our part in that process.”

Forming a community

The new focus area is also targeted at researchers at Utrecht University. “Of course, a great deal of data science is already happening here”, explains Van der Heijden, “but there has been nowhere for the researchers to come together. Until now, that is.” His hope is that the formation of a new inter-faculty community in the field of data science will lead to new insights. For example, a sociologist will be able to collaborate with a researcher from the Digital Humanities Lab, opening up new perspectives or even ensuing in a new research question. “The aim of all of this is to help further the advance of science.” 

The focus area steering committee is made up of the professors Peter van der Heijden, Rick Grobbee, Arno Siebes and Marijk van der Wende.