Virginia is for data lovers. Read our guide to schools, scholarships, research initiatives, professional communities, and job opportunities for data scientists in the Commonwealth. Or jump straight to our list of data science programs.
Studying Data Science in Virginia
Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe’s pet project is the development of a high-tech workforce within the state. As part of his legacy, the governor pushed for the 2014 launch of Data.Virginia, an open source database of state statistics that encourages researchers and businesses to solve government challenges related to agriculture, healthcare, transportation and so on. Which is exactly what schools like George Mason, Virginia Tech and University of Virginia are doing with it. For instance, UVa sponsors an initiative that harnesses big data to improve programs for citizens who depend on the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services.
Data Science Research & Initiatives at Virginia Universities
While all colleges offer degrees, only some regularly partake in research. Here’s what’s happening on that front in the commonwealth:
- Students pursuing an MS in Data Science at UVa will have top-of-the-line resources to work with. The university’s Data Science Institute (DSI) created Rivanna, a $2.4 million supercomputer, in 2014. Other departments borrow Rivanna to deal with their own large datasets.
- The reason people parse data is to make better decisions. The Social & Decision Analytics Laboratory (SDAL) at Virginia Tech aids in this endeavor through a variety of research projects covering everything from properly estimating the value of houses to exploring the effects of social media on public health. That’s just a small sample of Virginia Tech’s work. Elsewhere on the campus, the Discovery Analytics Center has created a system, EMBERS, that pulls from web-based data to forecast world events.
- The College of William and Mary houses the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, which is knee deep in stats. Its Bay Data project compiles and visualizes half a century of oceanic data on fish, water quality and wetland areas.
- The George Washington University announced in 2015 that it was creating a center for data analytics at its Virginia Science and Technology Campus in Ashburn. The university already offers an MS and certificate in Data Science.
Online Data Science Programs in Virginia
Although Virginia’s public universities — namely, UVa, Virginia Tech and College of William and Mary — rank among the best in the country, they have not yet developed online programs in data science. Instead, a couple of private universities are dabbling in distance learning.
Online Graduate Certificates in Data Science
Old Dominion University’s Graduate Certificate in Business Analytics and Big Data builds into the university’s MBA program. Its six courses introduce students to statistics, modeling, databases and data analysis.
George Mason University’s Bioinformatics certificate lives at the edges of the discipline, and is reserved for biology researchers who need to use big data to power new genetic discoveries.
Online Master’s Degrees in Data Science
George Mason’s certificate seekers can continue on to earn an MS in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology. They’ll get the chance to do some modeling, go in depth on research methods or learn advanced programming.
Data Science Scholarships in Virginia
Virginia isn’t exactly bursting with scholarships reserved for future data scientists, but we’ve found a few that fit the bill. Apply to these school-based awards along with general scholarships from your college and other funding sources.
George Mason University
- Coleman Raphael Scholarship: School of Business students, including those seeking a Graduate Certificate in Business Analytics, may apply for this award, which has no set amount.
- Johnson Family Scholarship: All School of Business students are eligible for funding from this endowed award.
- William C. Forgale Endowed Scholarship: High-achieving School of Business students with financial need may apply for the Forgale Scholarship.
University of Virginia
- Presidential Fellowship in Data Science: A free ride plus $28,000 in living expenses is on the line for aspiring data scientists at UVa. Earning it doesn’t come easy: You’ll have to assemble a team of fellows and develop a competitive research proposal.
- Shawn Michael Bryant Memorial Scholarship: Commerce students, including those in the Business Analytics track, can apply for a $2,500 award. To win it, you’ll need a record of community service.
Data Science Events in Virginia
Data Science Meetups & Communities in Virginia
You might think all of Virginia’s data science Meetups are clustered near DC. In reality, communities are popping up all the way south to Norfolk, home of Old Dominion University. You’ll find plenty of meetups focused on specific tools, such as the 757 R Users Group and the UVa R Users Group, as well as groups with broader interests in data science. Here are some bigger ones:
- Charlottesville Data Science: A growing group of data enthusiasts gathers sporadically for expert talks from academics and professionals in the area.
- Federal Big Data Working Group: These data junkies meet once a month at Xclerate Solutions in McLean to get updates on open data initiatives from the federal government.
- Full Stack Data Science: Data science doesn’t have to be a standalone discipline according to this McLean-based group, which works to help IT professionals use data across multiple business areas.
- Norfolk Data Science: Come once a month to the Slover Public Library to take hands-on workshops and grab some grub with your peers.
- NOVA Data Science: Data enthusiasts near DC listen to guest speakers talk about emerging theories and present new product features.
- RVA Data Hackers: Richmond programmers come together monthly to build their knowledge of AI, machine learning and architecture. The group is ideal for those new to big data concepts.
- VA/MD/DC Big Data Healthcare Meetup: Most of the time, this group meets near northern Virginia’s Metro stops. Members include researchers, professionals and even just healthcare users who think analytics holds the key to a healthier future.
Data Science Conferences & Workshops in Virginia
DC and its suburbs play host to dozens of conferences every month, some of which (e.g., the Health Care Informatics & Analytics Conference) actually cover data science. While most big events pack up and head to another metropolis the following year, a few local events keep coming back:
- Big Data & Predictive Analytics Symposium: The intelligence and defense industries are essentially headquartered in northern Virginia. They use this annual two-day event in Arlington to highlight the work of government agencies and industry contractors. The event is free for federal employees and U.S. service members, but all others must pay to listen to the expert presentations.
- Big Data for Intelligence Symposium: The Defense Strategies Institute hosts its own two-day symposium in Alexandria, but this one is reserved for senior-level staff and contractors from IT providers and government agencies.
- Capital Data Summit: Every year, the Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC) brings together some of the biggest names in big data from the corporate world and academia for a packed day of panel discussions and presentations.
Data Science Jobs in Virginia
According to a 2014 report from Gigaom, Virginia has the seventh-most data scientists in the country. Indeed, the state is large enough to accommodate two main clusters of data scientists. The most obvious hotspot is in northern Virginia, where defense contractors and federal agencies rub shoulders and want to get their hands on information that can prevent terror attacks or solve public policy questions. Think Deloitte, Lockheed Martin and Onyx Government Services. You can also go straight to the source and work for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington or hop across the Potomac to work for the General Services Administration, which created Data.gov.
There is plenty happening with state government as well, thanks to the aforementioned Data.Virginia project, which facilitates academic research to improve state services. Much of that research is happening around UVa in Charlottesville, the second big data hotspot in the commonwealth. With big firms like Elder Research (data specialists for hire) and S&P Global (yes, the stock market people) and up-and-comers such as VividCortex (database gurus) and Parse.ly (analytics service providers for publishers), there’s no need to trek north for a job after graduation.
Data Scientist Salaries in Virginia
Having proclaimed Charlottesville a big data bastion, you should know that your salary there is likely to be about $25,000 lower than it would be in Arlington, where average data scientists command $125,000 a year, according to data compiled by Indeed.com. But if you’re truly into analytics, you’ll recognize Indeed is using far fewer data points for its Charlottesville estimates than for its Arlington figures. That should change as startups like VividCortex and Parse.ly scale up their operations.
We found 7 universities in Virginia 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.