A lot of people reach out to me. They needs jobs. But they’re asking about school.
Education is a pathway to employment, understanding and enjoyment. Still, there’s a time to leave school behind and live your life.
When people come asking for career advice, I always encourage them to define goals and look for the easiest and least costly ways to reach those goals. Since graduate school is neither easy nor cheap, I don’t encourage anyone to attend unless there’s a special and compelling reason (such as a desire to become a college professor, one of the few jobs that absolutely requires a graduate degree).
If you want a career in analytics, and you have a college degree, then I encourage you to get out there and look for a job in analytics.
I’ve spent a lot of time recently combing through job ads that use the term “data science” or “data scientist.” And I have a lot of good news to report:
- Job listings are plentiful
- A diverse range of employers are hiring
- A generous majority of the job descriptions do not require a graduate degree
All of this hints that a person with a Bachelor’s degree, some worthwhile industry experience, and skills in statistics or programming gained through work experience, formal or self-study has a chance to get into the data science game right now while it’s hot.
Most current data science job descriptions don’t require a graduate degree. (Image: Shutterstock)
The funny thing is, people are starting to get mad that I won’t encourage them to go back to school.
Ten years ago, there was no such thing as a Masters in Data Science. Now, there are dozens of programs in the United States, and many more around the world. Marketing for data science graduate programs is so aggressive that at least one has been running ads on the sides of public transit buses in my neighborhood.
Yet, I’ve searched through scads of job descriptions, including many from big name tech companies reputed to pay astronomical salaries. Some call for graduate degrees, but not one specifically required a Masters in Data Science. Few even mention it.
And here’s something to ponder. The higher level positions at those glamorous companies, the ones that pay the most, frequently demand a Ph. D. and significant experience, not just in analytics, but also in management.
No doubt you can learn a lot in many of these new Masters programs, and I am all for learning. I could personally vouch for the knowledge and good intentions of professionals involved in the development and teaching of at least four analytics graduate programs in my hometown of Chicago alone.
But that learning comes at a cost of both time and money, and the cost isn’t worth it for everybody. The question is, are the costs justified, not for just anybody, but for you specifically?
So, you have to ask:
- What job can I expect to land upon graduation?
- What are the pay and other benefits of that job?
- What will I sacrifice to earn this degree?
- Might I reach the same level of career success through other paths?
Forbes’ Bernard Marr recently published a list of the six best Masters in Data Science degrees. They’re best, in his professional opinion, and he knows a lot about the trade, so I will take it at face value that each one offers great opportunities to learn and earn, some of the best in the industry.
Tuition is just the beginning. Graduate school costs also include living expenses, often in expensive communities. (Image: Shutterstock)
I did some reading about each of Marr’s recommended degrees. If you hope to get one of those, prepare to pay. Tuition and fees to earn the Masters ranged from about $55,000 to $78,000. That’s not including the cost of books, transportation, and 1-2 years of living expenses in expensive communities such as New York, Boston or San Francisco.
Now, I went to graduate school, and that’s led some people to question my motives for discouraging others from doing the same. So let me tell you some of what I observed as a graduate student.
People drop out. People get sidetracked with work or family concerns, driving up the cost of their education. Unbelievably talented hardworking people sometimes study for years yet never finish graduate school. It makes me sick to think of my classmates who never completed a graduate degree, because every one of them was my equal in intellect and effort if not better.
And even those who graduate and get good jobs with attractive starting salaries don’t always do so well in the long run.
But, Marr says that average starting salaries for those in the best programs are over $100,000 and I believe him. That’s a great motivator. You might feel that it’s worth spending a lot for a degree that will bring you such a salary, and I could not argue with that.
But I could point out that not everyone with a data scientist job title makes that kind of money. Glassdoor employee surveys report a salary range from $76-146,000 nationally, and that includes professionals with a wide range of education and experience. Here in Chicago, the pay is lower: $64-113,000. Payscale surveys show a similarly wide range of earnings, $62-146,000 nationally.
Your education and experience prior to graduate school will still matter when hiring time comes.
One student at a well-respected program explained her dilemma. Late in her final term, she had not yet received a single offer. She was a good student, and had completed the same coursework as all of her classmates. But her previous career in the nonprofit world was not a selling point. In the end, she did secure a job, but employers weren’t fighting to get her.
If a job (or a better job) is what you need, pick yourself up and make every effort to get a job. If you want to get into analytics, brainstorm all the ways you might get a start and find the path that gets you in as quickly and cheaply as possible. Graduate school has its merits, but it’s not going to magically change your life.