With programs at the state’s biggest research institutions, the Silver State needn’t be a second-choice destination for a data science degree. (See our list of Nevada degrees and certificates.) We’ll lay out aid opportunities, employment scenarios, and professional networks that lead to a winning hand.
Studying Data Science in Nevada
Be honest. If you’re not from Nevada, you’re thinking that all it has are casinos and deserts. While it has both in spades, the state has leveraged its climate and gaming industry to stimulate tech growth.
The Desert Research Institute (DRI), a non-teaching arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education, is involved in big data in at least two specific ways. In 2012, it partnered with IBM to conduct environmental research through what is now its Applied Innovation Center (AIC). The partnership gave DRI the processing power to perform advanced visualizations and big data analytics. And we mean advanced. The AIC’s DRIVE platform is a virtual reality theater for modeling environmental data. Where’s the data come from? DRI’s Western Regional Climate Center in Reno sifts through weather data for 13 states and visualizes it for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In southern Nevada, flashy casinos dominate. If you haven’t stepped into one recently, they’re high-tech. Pull levers and quarters have been replaced by personalized touch screen menus and monetized keycards. University of Nevada-Las Vegas has had years to develop a workforce pipeline into the resorts and casinos and is well-positioned to create the tech innovators the billion-dollar industry demands.
Data Science Research & Initiatives at Nevada Universities
Two poles compete for attention in the data science sector: University of Nevada-Reno and University of Nevada-Las Vegas. UNR skews toward interests in the natural sciences, while UNLV is making an aggressive play for dominance in everything else:
- As a flagship campus within commuting distance of the state capital, UNR has a ready-built infrastructure to attract funding. The Nevada Center for Surveys, Evaluation, and Statistics conducts many of the surveys for state departments, and its Statistics and Informatics Lab lets students advise businesses, hospitals and state agencies on statistical research methodologies and data analysis.
- UNR’s Nevada Research Data Center (NRDC) is charged with obtaining evidence of the environmental impact of solar energy, climate change within the state, and pre-drought conditions in remote areas. Moving forward, UNR researchers on the Solar Nexus Cyberinfrastructure team plan to use NRDC’s numbers to develop better data mining, analysis and visualization tools.
- Other beneficiaries of the environmental data include researchers in the UNR Department of Mathematics and Statistics, such as Paul Hurtado, who studies the spread of fish and bird diseases, and Anna Panorska, who creates climate models.
- UNLV is trying to become the state leader in data science. Step 1 was building the National Supercomputing Institute. Step 2 was constructing an on-campus research lab, the Big Data Hub. Step 3 was linking its researchers with a local supercomputer known as Cherry Creek II, operated by Intel and Switch. The next step, in 2016, was requesting half a million dollars from the state for an Institute for Big Data.
- The UNLV Big Data Hub is led by Dr. Justin Zhan, who, before he came to the state, had already won $1.5 million in National Science Foundation funding in 2012 to create software called DataBridge to help scientists better locate data.
- The Nevada Institute of Personalized Medicine, also at UNLV, is stacked with researchers who are using big data to improve patient results, enough to support a Division of Health and Medical Informatics. Researchers there get a piece of the processing power at Cherry Creek.
Online Data Science Programs in Nevada
Although UNR and UNLV both have graduate programs on the ground, neither are online. That’s where Western Governors University Nevada comes in. WGU Nevada, a public-private hybrid founded in 1997, is an online school with two relevant degree programs for data junkies.
Online Master’s Degrees in Data Science
Students with a solid IT and/or programming background can get their fill of data mining, visualization and management in WGU Nevada’s MS in Data Analytics program. The degree not only prepares students for professional certifications, but also builds the following credentials into the program’s curriculum and costs: Oracle SQL Expert Certification, SAS Certified Base Programmer, and SAS Certified Statistical Business Analyst. Before graduating, students finish a synthesizing capstone project.
Are you a nurse? (If not, you can skip ahead.) WGU Nevada’s MSN in Nursing-Nursing Informatics is for RNs or BSNs who want to leverage health data to improve patient health. The specialization ensures nurses get a heavy dose of data analytics and modeling – and prescribes an internship and capstone to ensure hands-on practice.
Data Science Scholarships in Nevada
Both UNLV and UNR take care of their best graduate students, typically through paid teaching and research assistantships.
University of Nevada-Las Vegas
- Graduate Assistantship: Students in the MS in Data Analytics and Applied Economics program can secure a graduate assistantship through either the Department of Economics or the Department of Management, Entrepreneurship, and Technology. Earning an assistantship entails committing to help a professor with research or teaching duties. It comes with a monthly stipend, lower tuition, and – for nonresidents – a tuition waiver.
- Hall Fellowship: The Department of Economics provides certain high-performing grad students additional funding – $1,000 to $5,000 a year – via the Hall Fellowship.
University of Nevada-Reno
- MSIS Graduate Assistantship: After acceptance into the MS in Information Systems program, you can apply for a research or teaching assistantship with the program by emailing your resume to the program chair. Students work in exchange for tuition assistance.
- Statistics and Data Science PhD Funding: Entry to the doctoral data science program automatically comes with free tuition and a $17,000 annual stipend.
Data Science Events in Nevada
A good introduction to tech networks can be found at either the Innevation Center in Vegas or the Innevation Center at UNR. Both co-working spaces are run by local company Switch, which is building the biggest data center in the world. UNR students can utilize their center for free as an opportunity to hobnob with tech entrepreneurs. UNLV students and recent grads, meanwhile, should bookmark its meetup calendar. Data science-specific startups in both cities are below.
Data Science Meetups & Communities in Nevada
- AI Vegas: This Meetup goes easy on the math and focuses on how entrepreneurs can use machine learning and analytics to crack business problems. Monthly meetings are two hours – the first is devoted to learning about a topic and the second to strategy and/or implementation. The group has learnt how to build chatbots, create data-driven customer service protocols and utilize digital assistants.
- Big Data Developers Las Vegas: IBM is behind this meetup, which convenes roughly once a month. Hour 1 covers a specific technology IBM wants you to know about. Hours 2 to 4 are devoted to a group project utilizing that technology. IBM is famous for building machines that can win at Jeopardy, so presentations often feature preeminent data scientists.
- Data Science Las Vegas: This Meetup incorporates two other groups – the Las Vegas R Users Group and Data Visualization Las Vegas. The former is for programmers looking for new ways to utilize R. The typical agenda includes pizza and networking followed by a presentation or hands-on demonstration from a local professional or UNLV researcher. The latter follows the same format but is program-agnostic, meaning Python and SQL get their due. The groups usually meet together every few months under the Data Science Las Vegas banner.
- Reno Data Science Meetup: This group, founded in May 2017, hasn’t been around as long as those above and is still figuring out its format. The group encourages people who deal with data, including business analysts, to join.
Data Science Conferences & Workshops in Nevada
Vegas attracts more than bachelor parties and cash-flush tourists. It’s also a top conference destination. In the world of data science, Innovation Enterprise puts together two-day big data summits across the world, many of which land in Sin City. For example, in January 2018 it holds the Big Data Innovation Summit and the Business Analytics Innovation Summit back to back. Both conferences attract business managers and executives who want to learn directly from data scientists how they can improve their operations. Here are three events that roll the dice year after year:
- Strategic Analytics Summit: This two-day conference, which launched in Las Vegas in 2017, is aimed at senior executives in the hospitality, finance, healthcare and gaming industries. Attendees commune with data scientists to learn how analytics can increase sales, hone marketing precision, and hire better employees.
- TDWI Las Vegas: This is a weeklong training – with multiple full-day and half-day courses to choose from – for anyone who wants to receive a consolidated intro to analytics or improve their skills. The price is in the thousands of dollars and increases the more days you stay (up to six). However, students get in for half-price.
- Think: In 2018, the annual IBM event World of Watson becomes Think. A four-day conference and expo that IBM is billing as the most important tech event in the world, Think combined keynotes and technology demonstrations with networking opportunities. It’s kind of like an Apple product launch, but bigger and without Steve Jobs’ black turtleneck.
Data Science Jobs in Nevada
Nevada has nine Fortune 1000 companies. Seven are in the casino/gaming industry, among them Las Vegas Sands Corporation, Boyd Gaming, Caesars and MGM Entertainment. Casinos want to limit losses and game developers want to keep players on their machines. In-house data analysts help them see patterns in players’ habits. Those jobs are primarily based in Vegas, but game makers in Reno also attract talent. They include big players International Game Technology (IGT) and the much smaller Ruby Seven Studios.
Not a video poker fan? Try Quertle, a small Vegas-area company that has created biomedical AI and data visualization platforms. Up north, Reno trades off its high-desert environs and accessibility to Silicon Valley to attract companies that need room to innovate. Apple came to town with a billion dollar deal for a data center in 2012, Tesla broke ground on a car battery factory (and began hiring data scientists) in 2014, and Google bought land next to it in 2017 (rumor has it, to test driverless Teslas in the desert). When Apple expanded into downtown Reno in 2017, the city began discussing a tech innovation district linked to research units at the state’s flagship university, University of Nevada-Reno.
Data Scientist Salaries in Nevada
Your typical data scientist in Nevada earns just shy of $130,000 a year, according to Indeed.com estimates, which it says is about the national average. Glassdoor’s assessment differs, placing salaries in either Reno or Vegas at around $95,000 and national rates at $113,000. (For a more rigorous analysis of national salaries, consult Burtch Works.)
We found 3 universities in Nevada 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.