UC Berkeley's Data Science Major Takes Off

Data 8

Students check out Data 8, Foundations of Data Science, the first week of classes.

October 9, 2018

With 780 students filing pre-declarations as soon as they became available earlier this fall, UC Berkeley’s new Data Science major is on the way to quickly becoming one of the most popular on campus. Advisors are busy helping seniors and juniors declare, and soon will move on to others who are eager to add the Data Science major. 

Designed through collaboration across diverse disciplines, the Bachelor of Arts in Data Science in the College of Letters and Science was developed in response to intense student, faculty, and industry demand for graduates equipped to propel knowledge to action in a world transformed by the digitization of everything from DNA to political speeches to radio signals from distant galaxies.

“We are thrilled to introduce our new Data Science major, which will produce graduates who not only have deep technical expertise, but who also know how to responsibly collect and manage data, and use it to inform decisions and advance innovation to benefit the rapidly evolving world they’re graduating into,” said David Culler, Interim Dean of the Division of Data Sciences.

The booming field of data science integrates aspects of computer science and statistics to analyze and draw inferences from data to produce knowledge in the context of a particular discipline or problem—for example, to illuminate the interplay of traffic patterns and air pollution. LinkedIn’s August Workforce Report 2018 highlights a significant gap between data science job listings and people with the skills to fill them, particularly in areas like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York, noting: “Demand for data scientists is off the charts.”

Depth, Breadth, and Context

The new major focuses on three dimensions that leverage the University’s strengths:

  • computational, statistical, and mathematical depth, including a core set of data science courses built from the ground up;
  • breadth, as reflected in the requirement for a “domain emphasis,” or specialization in one of an array of subject areas, including Evolution and Biodiversity, Inequalities and Society, and Organizations and the Economy; and
  • societal awareness, or an understanding of the social and human contexts in which data are applied, and of related concerns such as privacy, governance, and the impacts on human beings living in a data-abundant society. 

This distinctive combination, along with the scale of the program, have contributed to make UC Berkeley a leader in Data Science pedagogy.

“This is an exciting moment, said Cathryn Carson, Professor of History, who has co-chaired the data science curriculum design team and been the faculty lead in the undergraduate program for the past two years. “With engaged support across campus, we’ve been able to build a strong, integrative major for our students.”

Senior Eleanor Fleming, who plans to graduate this spring with a Data Science major and a domain emphasis in Cognition, likes the versatility of the degree. “I feel like if you have the tools to analyze data, a strong understanding of the foundations of data science, it gives you the opportunity to explore a lot of things. It makes you valuable in whichever industry you end up in.” She’s currently part of a team working to design an autonomous drone; when she graduates, she’ll be applying her skills at an asset management firm.

Junior and intended major Zander Ladd said he aims to use his data science knowledge paired with a domain emphasis in Neuroscience to pursue his passion for mapping and understanding the brain. Zander, a peer advisor for the Division of Data Sciences, appreciates the wide appeal of the new major. “If you look at the domain emphases, it’s awesome just how encompassing of Berkeley it is; you have Inequalities in Society, you have Ecology and the Environment, you have Human and Population Health…”

In the coming year, the Division of Data Sciences also anticipates releasing a Data Science minor, which will give an ever-larger group of students the opportunity to build data science skills. The major is the most recent addition to Berkeley’s thriving Data Sciences educational program, which continues to experience surging demand. This fall, more than 400 students are enrolled in courses that explore aspects of data science ethics, and almost 800 students are taking Data 100, the bridge to upper level data science courses. Data 8, Berkeley’s entry level class on the Foundations of Data Science, saw an enrollment of 1,300, half of them women, representing almost all majors.

For additional information, contact:

Jill Hodges, Communications Director, Division of Data Sciences

jrhodges@berkeley.edu