Considering the sunny south for your education? We’ve put together a short guide to earning a data science degree in the Cotton State. It has details on everything from research & scholarships to job opportunities & salary numbers. Already have a school in mind? Skip ahead to our list of all the data science programs in Alabama.
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Studying Data Science in Alabama
The big name in Bama is Huntsville. Located in the data-fertile Tennessee Valley Corridor, the Rocket City is known for advanced manufacturing, aerospace, and aviation (not to mention defense). Some of the reasons why it earned the #1 spot in Nerdwallet’s Best places for STEM grads 2016 include:
- The Cummings Research Park, which is one of the largest science & tech research parks in the nation. This is where you’ll find many of the organizations (e.g. HudsonAlpha’s Institute for Biotechnology, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, United Technologies, etc.) that fuel the city’s economy.
- The Army’s Redstone Arsenal, which plays host to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and all its research into civilian rocketry and spacecraft propulsion. Taken together, the Arsenal and the Center are far and away the area’s largest employers.
- 21st century projects at the Alabama Robotics Technology Park near Decatur, manufacturing at Toyota and Polaris plants, and the presence of a Google Big Data Center in Jackson County.
One thing to note—unlike the wild & crazy tech scenes elsewhere, Huntsville has deep roots in traditional fields. Organizations like Rocket Hatch are helping to accelerate the startup community in North Alabama, but the city relies on its engineering & manufacturing “crops.”
Meanwhile, Birmingham is still in the seedling stage. It wants to be the next Nashville, but it’s had trouble hanging onto IT talent. Organizations such as Alabama Launchpad and Tech Birmingham are working to remedy this situation. The Innovation Depot also has the UAB Innovation Lab (UAB iLab) and a Velocity Accelerator to help high-growth technology companies develop and scale. Watch this space…
Data Science Research & Initiatives at Alabama Universities
Every Alabama university has a vested interest in data science. Yes, the University of Alabama (UA), the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), and the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) are partners of the South Big Data Hub, but the fun doesn’t stop there:
- Auburn University runs a Data Science Lab in its College of Engineering that is sponsored by the NSF, the DOE, and the Air Force Research Laboratory. It’s also part of the Agricultural Data Coalition, which supports farmers & producers in the era of data-driven agriculture.
- UA’s Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration provides consulting services through the Statistics Research & Consulting Laboratory and the Alabama State Data Center for Business and Economic Research.
- The School of Computing at the University of South Alabama (USA) has research groups devoted to data science, the Internet of Things (IoT), and health informatics.
- The Samford University Center for Sports Analytics studies the relationship between big data and sports. The Center often partners with sports organizations, which gives students the opportunity to earn real-world experience. Students complete semester-long projects and present their findings to executives from partnering organizations, such as the NBA, Nike, and the Miami Dolphins.
Having said that, the schools with the widest variety of research interests may well be UAB and UAH. Just to take a few examples:
- UAB has the interdisciplinary Big Data Research and Analytics Laboratory (BDRAL), where project researchers work with institutions like the School of Medicine, the School of Public Health, and the National Institute of Computational Science (NICS) at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL); the Biostatistics and Bioinformatics Shared Facility (BBSF), which serves as a helpmate to the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center (UAB-CCC); and the Geospatial Mapping, Analysis, and Data (GeoMAD) Unit, which specializes in geospatial data management, spatial analysis, cartography, and data visualization.
- Strategically located near the Redstone Arsenal, UAH is building on its strengths in engineering, biotech & hard science. There’s the Information Technology and Systems Center (ITSC), which deals with data management, data mining, geoinformatics, and visualization; the UAH Integrated Enterprise Lab, which handles large-scale data manipulation and complex systems analysis & redesign; the UAH Center for Management & Economic Research, with its stakes in supply chain & transportation research; and a number of related research projects (think IoT) at the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering.
Online Data Science Programs in Alabama
Your choices for online data science programs in Alabama are good when it comes to degrees; limited when it comes to graduate certificates. We outline general things to look for in an online data science program elsewhere, so here we’ve concentrated on what’s available from local schools.
Online Graduate Certificates in Data Science
Auburn has one Graduate Certificate in Business Analytics, which is available online or on-campus. This four-course program covers the basic skills necessary to manage big data in a business setting—data mining, predictive modeling, data management, and so on—but it doesn’t dive deep into specific areas.
If you’re looking for something more specialized, we’ve compiled a directory of programs offered by respected universities (e.g. Stanford) throughout the country: Online Graduate Certificates in Data Science.
Online Master’s Degrees in Data Science
When it comes to online master’s degrees, most Alabama universities have chosen to focus on the business end of data. The UA system is particularly strong in this category—UA and UAB are often in the top 25 of U.S. News & World Report’s Best Online Graduate Business Programs (Excluding MBA).
- For marketing analysts, there’s UA’s online Master of Science in Marketing with a specialization in Marketing Analytics. This combines subjects in marketing (e.g. global business, advanced import/export strategy, etc.) with in-depth statistics courses, including data mining.
- For operations professionals, there’s UA’s Master of Science in Operations Management – Decision Analytics Track. This begins with serious work in stats and data science, then adds courses in decision analytics (e.g. supply chain modeling and analysis, inventory management, etc.)
- For diehard data analysts and managers, there’s UAH’s online Master of Science in Management Science – Business Analytics. This has a solid core of management science & business analytics, as well as some fascinating electives (e.g. games & networks, supply chain management systems, etc.).
- For aspiring CIOs, CTOs, and IT directors, there’s UAB’s online Master of Science in Management Information Systems. This has a strong base of management information systems (e.g. IT strategy, IT governance, business intelligence, etc.) and concentrations in information security or IT management.
If you’re looking to be the next big business leader, there’s also Auburn University’s online MBA with concentration in Business Analytics. From start to finish, this degree is heavily invested in stats, big data, and analysis. Better yet, Auburn is frequently ranked in the top 10 Best Online MBA Programs by U.S. News & World Report.
Data Science Scholarships in Alabama
For this section, we’ve chosen to list university scholarships & assistantships that can be applied to the school’s data science/analysis program. But this isn’t the end of the money! The Graduate Studies Office will have advice on general scholarships and alternative financing options (e.g. low-interest loans). You’ll usually find more aid for campus-based programs and less for online degrees.
The University of Alabama
- Departmental Graduate Assistantships: Most UA departments employ graduate teaching assistants (GTAs), graduate research assistants (GRAs), and/or graduate administrative assistants (GAAs). Assistants receive a reasonable stipend.
- Manderson Graduate School of Business & Culver College of Commerce Fellowships & Awards: There are tons of UA awards that apply to the MS in Applied Statistics (Data Mining Track), the MS in Marketing (Specialization in Marketing Analytics), and the MBA program. The MBA awards are particularly generous. Be sure to contact the department head for more information.
The University of Alabama in Huntsville
- GEM Fellowship: UAH sponsors full-tuition fellowships for qualified students from underrepresented communities who are interested in pursuing a graduate degree in a STEM field.
- UAH Graduate Assistantships: The university offers Graduate Teaching Assistantships (GTAs) and Graduate Research Assistantships (GRAs). In return for the student’s work, UAH will pay for tuition and fees for up to 12 hours per semester.
Data Science Events in Alabama
Data Science Meetups & Communities in Alabama
Meetups are a strong indicator of the health of a data science community. (Just look at California!) Since Alabama still has a long way to go, we pushed the parameters out to include startup groups.
- Entrepreneur Brain Trust: Created by Rocket Hatch, the Brain Trust is a chance for North Alabaman entrepreneurs to get together, sharpen their skills, solve problems, and build their businesses.
- Futureproof Bama: Folks in Futureproof are deeply interested in advances in robotics, automation, machine learning, and AI (and their effect on the Alabama economy). The meetup is based in Birmingham.
- Gulf Coast Entrepreneurs Think Tank: Mobile doesn’t get much attention in the startup game, but this group is trying to change that. There are workshops, Q&As with local business owners, and multiple opportunities to network.
- Huntsville Big Data and Data Science Meetup: This is the biggest and one of the only meetups in Alabama devoted to data science. Talks cover tools, case studies, trends—everything you might expect from the title.
- Startup Grind Birmingham: A mix of social outings, paid events, and storytelling, Startup Grind is designed to help connect local entrepreneurs. (Google for Entrepreneurs is a sponsor.)
Data Science Conferences & Workshops in Alabama
You’re going to have a hard time finding major conferences like Strata+Hadoop World, IEEE International Conference in Big Data (IEEE Big Data), and MLconf in Alabama—it’s just not big enough for data geeks. If the following events aren’t specialized enough, you may want to check out regional conferences in Austin, Nashville, Atlanta, and/or Miami.
- Alabama Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Spring Conference: One for the healthcare specialists! Every year, the state chapter of HIMSS holds a one-day event in Huntsville. Sessions frequently cover the latest in technology advances, data security, data science, interoperability, etc.
- GeoHuntsville Summit: Packed with interesting speakers, this hyper-focused geospatial conference is part of Innovate Huntsville, a week-long event designed to encourage entrepreneurship.
- Sloss Tech: Billed as the “Southeast’s Preeminent Technology Festival,” Sloss Tech is a weekend of workshops, talks, and networking opportunities.
- Startup Weekend Tuscaloosa: This is one of many Startup Weekends powered by Google for Entrepreneurs. It’s part competition, part networking event, with the opportunity to work in an interdisciplinary team.
- Tennessee Valley Corridor (TVC) National Summit: This annual science & technology summit brings together all kinds of high-powered academics, businesses, and government reps who are involved in the region’s industries.
Data Science Jobs in Alabama
The biggest tech employers in Huntsville are in all the fields you might expect. Think aerospace, aviation, telecommunications, and manufacturing. Think Davidson Technologies, Raytheon, Parsons Corporation, Jacobs, ADTRAN, Northrop Grumman, Wyle, Boeing, Sanmina, IBM, Comcast, and SAIC.
Yet thanks to UAH investment and the Cummings Research Park, there are all kinds of intriguing opportunities. In a 2015 survey, Nerdwallet noted that 68 of every 1,000 jobs in the city were in technology-related fields. It’s probably one of the best places in the country if you’re interested in the intersection between data science and engineering.
The rest of the state has a more diffuse market, with Birmingham being your best bet. The biggest employers—such as BBVA Compass Bank, Protective Life, and Regions—are often in the banking & insurance sector, but ask around. There are some startups and smaller businesses—such as the data science consulting firm StrategyWise—that are devoted to data.
Data Scientist Salaries in Alabama
According to Glassdoor, in 2017 the average estimated salary for a data scientist was $93,815 in Huntsville and $95,057 in Birmingham. However, since Glassdoor didn’t have many stats for Birmingham jobs, it’s best to take these numbers with a large grain of salt.
We found 5 universities in Alabama offering Masters of Data Science programs (and/or closely related programs, like MS in Analytics / Masters in Business Analytics).
If you represent a university and would like to contact us about editing any of our listings, or adding new programs, please send an email to info (at) mastersindatascience.org.