Wondering if Chicago or Champaign is the right choice for your data science degree? Wonder no more. Here you’ll find info on everything from research and scholarships to networking opportunities and job prospects. Already set your heart on Illinois? Skip ahead to our list of all the data science programs in Illinois.
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Studying Data Science in Illinois
Illinois is the dark horse of data science. Although it doesn’t garner as much attention as New York or California, the state has a solid stable of graduate talent and a lot of buy-in from government and industry. For example, the City of Chicago has put data science front and center, making public data available through its data portal.
Much of the drive toward big data is generated by Illinois’s universities. Known as a Public Ivy, UIUC frequently appears in the top 5 of U.S. News & World Report rankings for Graduate Computer Science Programs and it’s invested a lot of its reputation in computing. Not far behind are U Chicago and Northwestern, both of which appear on the Center for Measuring University Performance (MUP)’s list of Top 25 American Research Universities.
Just to take a few examples of their interests & initiatives:
- Home to the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), UIUC has an endless number of interdisciplinary research centers, including the industry-focused Illinois Applied Research Institute. It’s also been designated a Center of Excellence for Big Data Computing by the NIH’s Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) initiative.
- U Chicago’s Center for Data Science and Public Policy is involved in a number of altruistic research areas and it runs the Data Science for Social Good Summer Fellowship. This center is part of the much larger and quite famous Computation Institute, a joint initiative between U Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory. Research projects include the Open Science Data Cloud (OSDC) and the Urban Center for Computation and Data.
- Northwestern is building its national profile with the Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems (NICO). Founded in 2004 and funded by some serious players (e.g. NSF, NIH, Army Research Lab, MacArthur Foundation, etc.), NICO tackles research areas in every realm of big data. The university also funds data science scholars.
Even lesser known schools are getting in on the game. For instance, annual research funding at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Department of Computer Science exceeds $9 million per year. The DCS has a variety of data-focused initiatives, including an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Lab and a Natural Language Processing (NLP) Lab.
Online Data Science Programs in Illinois
Illinois schools are enthralled with distance learning. Almost every major player has an online MS of some description, and a lot of schools are experimenting with new directions.
- Northwestern University uses the Digital Learning website to showcase best practices in distance learning, and it has an entire section on Learning Analytics.
- The University of Chicago has developed a list of digital teaching tools, which supports faculty who are experimenting with new online technologies and teaching techniques.
- The University of Illinois at Springfield has research churning at the Center for Online Learning, Research and Service (COLRS). In 2016, COLRS was the recipient of a UPCEA award for Strategic Innovation in Online Education.
We go over general things to look for in an online data science program elsewhere, so we decided to do some digging into your options in the Prairie State.
Online Graduate Certificates in Data Science
Graduate certificates are usually targeted toward working professionals, so it’s no surprise that Illinois schools offer a number of online qualifications with a business focus (e.g. University of Illinois at Springfield’s Graduate Certificate in Business Intelligence). Even Elmhurst’s Graduate Certificate in Data Science and Northwestern’s Advanced Data Science Certificate take a close look at market forces.
In particular, you’ll find a lot choice when it comes to business analytics. For example, Northwestern has a Certificate in Analytics and Business Intelligence for IT Professionals; U Chicago has an Online Business Analytics Certificate; and the University of St. Francis has a Graduate Certificate in Business Analytics.
The outlier in this group is University of Illinois at Chicago’s Health Informatics (IBHE-Approved Certificate). This is a super-specialized qualification aimed at healthcare or IT professionals with a master’s degree.
Online Master’s Degrees in Data Science
When it comes to the master’s, Illinois has it all. There are schools that offer online MS degrees in pure data science (e.g. Lewis, Elmhurst, and the Illinois Institute of Technology), some that specialize in fields like health informatics (e.g. Elmhurst, Northwestern, and the University of Illinois at Chicago), and others that tackle predictive analytics (e.g. DePaul and Northwestern).
One unusual player in this game is UIUC. Following the launch of a similar MBA online program, UIUC announced it was partnering with Coursera on a MOOC-based data science master’s degree.
UIUC’s degree is deliberately built on a “stackable” model. Students can take a short specialization certificate program in data mining or cloud computing before deciding if they wish to earn an MS.
Trying to decide between online and campus? Quora.com often has useful feedback and reviews on distance learning programs. You might also consider contacting alumni through LinkedIn or other networking sites.
Data Science Scholarships in Illinois
Here you’ll find university scholarships and fellowships (i.e. institutional aid) that cover degrees in our school listings. But this is just the beginning! Ask the Graduate Studies Office if you qualify for general scholarships and fellowships and alternative financial options (e.g. teaching assistantships).
- Dr. Curtis J. and Mrs. Gina Crawford Endowed Scholarship: Offered by the College of Computing and Digital Media (CDM), this scholarship is available to graduate students focusing on commerce, business, communication technology, or information systems. Students must have financial need. Additional consideration is given to African-American students.
- Dr. Steven C. Rubinow Endowed Scholarship: This award is expressly aimed at CDM graduate students in the School of Computing. Information systems and predictive analytics are eligible disciplines. Applicants must have financial need.
- The DePaul Faculty/Staff Scholarship: This scholarship is open to CDM graduate students entering their second or final year. Students must demonstrate activities that place value on service to the community and to other individuals. Awards are dependent on funds available.
- School for Professional Studies (SPS) Graduate Fellowship: This fellowship is available to graduate students in a number of master’s degree programs, including the MS in Data Science. Requirements vary by program, so please contact the university for more information.
Illinois Institute of Technology
- Master of Data Science Scholarships: IIT sometimes has partial tuition scholarships (based on GRE scores) for MDS students. IIT alumni may also be eligible for a tuition discount.
- Starr Research Fellowship/Fieldhouse Research Fellowship: These $15,000 fellowships are given to IIT students currently enrolled in an MS or doctoral program in certain departments (including Computer Science). Students must be conducting research in collaboration with the IIT Research Institute (IITRI), the Institute for Food Safety and Health (IFSH), Fermilab, or the Argonne National Laboratory (ANL).
- Dean’s Merit Scholarship: All graduate students accepted into the Quinlan School of Business are eligible for a merit scholarship. Eligibility is generally determined by GPA and GMAT scores; scholarships typically cover one or two Quinlan courses.
- MS in Applied Statistics: Financial Aid: Loyola offers graduate assistantships to certain MS students. Some tuition stipends may also be available.
- Crown Family Internship: Although this award is only offered to PhD students at the McCormick School of Engineering, we wanted to include it in case you were thinking of further studies. The 3- or 6-month paid internship allows students gain practical experience in industry or at national laboratories in areas closely related to their research.
- Master of Science in Analytics (MSIA) Fellowship: The McCormick School of Engineering offers a limited number of merit-based fellowships to MSIA students each year. These fellowships cover 50% of the tuition expenses.
University of Chicago
- Computational Analysis and Public Policy (CAPP) Scholarship: This award is given to an applicant to the MS in Computational Analysis & Public Policy degree. Applicants must have a strong interest and background in addressing policy issues through data.
- Harris School of Public Policy Scholarships & Fellowships: In addition to the CAPP scholarships, MS students are also eligible for a variety of public service-oriented awards (e.g. Urban Policy Scholarship). Check the list to see if your area of interest is listed.
University of Illinois at Chicago
- Liataud Graduate School of Business: Partial Tuition Waivers: Liataud, which administers both the MS in Management Information Systems and the MS in Business Analytics, offers a limited number of partial tuition and fee waivers. Awards are based on academic merit.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- FMC Educational Fund Fellowship: This one-year fellowship is open to UIUC master’s- and doctoral-level students who are conducting research in areas related to the work of FMC Technologies, Inc. Eligible fields include systems/analytics and computer science. Master’s students receive $15,000 and tuition and fee waivers.
- MS Graduate Assistantships: Students in the MS in Information Management program are eligible for graduate assistantships. Awardees receive a monthly stipend, as well as tuition and service fee waivers. Non-Illinois residents must pay the difference between in- and out-of-state tuition.
- Mayo Clinic and Illinois Alliance – Fellowship for Technology-Based Healthcare Research: This fascinating fellowship offers two years of support to UIUC graduate students who are researching new technologies and clinical tools aimed at advancing individualized medicine. The award includes a $30,000 stipend, coverage of tuition and select fees, a $5,000 research and travel allowance, and a one-year, on-site mentored research opportunity at the Mayo Clinic.
Data Science Events in Illinois
Data Science Meetups & Communities in Illinois
Like any major tech hub, Chicago is swarming with data communities. There are meetups for folks who want to hone certain skills (e.g. Chicago R User Group, Chicago Spark Users, PyData Chicago, etc.) or even intercut disciplines like data and psychology (e.g. Action Design Chicago). Here are few more to explore:
- Chicago Booth Big Data and Analytics Roundtable: This monthly meetup is open to anyone in U Chicago’s Booth community (alumni, students, faculty, staff, and friends). Talks cover everything from geospatial analytics to NLP. Every event starts and ends with networking.
- Chicago City Data: Interested in playing with all of that lovely free data from the City of Chicago? Check out this group of end users, business users, enthusiasts, data science students, and entrepreneurs.
- Chicago Startup Community: If you’re planning on launching your own business, this meetup may be worth a look. It’s billed as the “insider’s introduction to the tech, design, and entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Windy City.”
- Chicago Women in Machine Learning and Data Science: This meetup is run by the Chicago chapter of WiMLDS, and it hosts regular events where members can network, learn about careers, and discuss new advances in research and technology.
- Data Science Chicago: Sponsored by Datascope Analytics, this meetup is an intriguing mix of talks, tutorials, and social events. It has around 4,000 members and is open to all skill levels.
Data Science Conferences & Workshops in Illinois
Major data science conferences (e.g. Strata+Hadoop World, IEEE ICDM & DSAA, SIGKDD, JSM, etc.) occasionally get to Chicago, but you’ll have to buy a plane ticket to the coast in certain years. Can’t leave town? You could also consider these:
- Chief Data Officer (CDO) Insurance: Run by Corinium, this is a one-day, high-level conference tailored to C-level data scientists and analytics officers in insurance. Supporting associations include the International Insurance Society (IIS) and the Society of Actuaries (SOA).
- Escape Big Data Analytics Conference: Part conference, part boot camp, this event is packed with workshops run by companies such as IBM, Cloudera, SPS, and Tableau. It also includes an Open Forum.
- Predictive Analytics World (PAW) Chicago: PAW always makes an annual stop in Chicago. Along with full-day workshops (e.g. Hadoop, R, etc.) and detailed case studies, there are expert panels, important keynotes, and innumerable networking opportunities.
- University of Chicago Convening on Urban Data Science: In 2016, U Chicago held a three-day event centered on the integration of social science, data ethics, and urban data science. This was under the auspices of its Urban Center for Computation and Data. Check with the school to see if the event will be repeated.
- University of Chicago Data Science for Social Good (DSSG) Conference: U Chicago’s two-day event is intended to bring together experts from academia, governments, non-profits, foundations, social enterprises, and corporations. In 2016, the keynote speaker was DJ Patil, Chief Data Scientist at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Data Science Jobs in Illinois
It’s called the Prairie State for a reason. In 2015, Illinois was home to 34 Fortune 500 companies, many of them with ties to agribusiness and farming (e.g. Caterpillar). Some of these non-tech companies are starting to build dedicated data analytics departments.
But you don’t have to be interested in dirt to work in Illinois. As we mentioned, the City of Chicago has signaled a commitment to big data and it’s openly encouraging investment:
- Microsoft, IBM, comScore, and IRI have a sizeable presence.
- Data science start-ups like 4C Insights, Uptake, Civis Analytics, and Narrative Science are making big waves.
- The lead office of GE Transportation’s Digital Solutions business is based there.
Thinking about trading in the winters for sunny California? In a 2015 Jobvite survey that looked at universities with the most students hired by Silicon Valley companies, UIUC was #15—the only Illinois school on the list.
Data Scientist Salaries in Illinois
We’ll tell you straight—you’re not going to command the same salary numbers in Chicago that you might in San Francisco or New York. A 2016 Burtch Works Study on the Salaries of Data Scientists, noted that median base salaries for individual contributors were at least $2,000 below Northeast and West Coast data scientists, a figure which Glassdoor statistics support.
On the other hand, if you choose to stay in Chicago, you will have a cost of living that hovers around the national average. This could be a deciding factor if you’re considering running your own start-up or working with a research group at one of the universities.
You might also wish to consider your return on investment (ROI) by browsing through Payscale’s College ROI Report. Data science is a new field, so these figures won’t be 100% accurate, but it’s interesting to note that IIT (#40) and UIUC (#54) are the top performers when it comes Illinois schools.
We found 13 universities in Illinois 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.