School of Data Science Launches Doctoral Program

A female student presenting in a classroom.

The UVA School of Data Science, which will offer a Ph.D. starting this fall, was founded in 2019. Pictured, a woman speaks at the 2019 Women in Data Science conference. (Courtesy of the School of Data Science)

The School of Data Science at the University of Virginia has begun accepting applications for its new Ph.D. program, following the degree’s recent approval by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. With an emphasis on rigorous data science research, the program will prepare graduates to work at the forefront of a new and rapidly growing field.

“The approval of our Ph.D. program is a landmark event for our young school,” said Stephenson Dean Phil Bourne, founding dean of the School of Data Science. Established in 2019 as the first of its kind in the country, the school already offers master’s degrees in-person and online, as well as a data science minor and of professional education courses.

“We look forward to training doctoral students to undertake deep, open and reproducible research with a strong theoretical underpinning,” Bourne said. “Our employers in Virginia and beyond – and our society writ large – deserve no less.”

Data scientist is one of the top three fastest-growing jobs in the U.S., according to LinkedIn’s Emerging Jobs Report. The relatively new discipline exists at the intersection of many other fields, including computer science, statistics, mathematics and information science. While the Ph.D. will build on foundational knowledge of those subjects, it will also train students to consider how data shapes society and decision-making.

“Creating a Ph.D. in Data Science at UVA is another step toward using data to solve global problems,” UVA Provost Ian Baucom said. “Data science has become both a vibrant field in itself and fundamental to advance research in multiple disciplines. We need to develop faculty and practitioners who understand the value and potential of this emerging field.” 

To attract candidates from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines, the School of Data Science will not require Ph.D. applicants to have completed a specific program of study. However, students must take prerequisite courses in calculus, algebra, statistics and programming before matriculation.

“We need students who have computational skills, but also students who want to think about how to ethically interpret data, and students who can translate complex algorithms and models to communicate them for broader accessibility,” said Jeffrey Blume, the school’s associate dean for academic and faculty affairs in data science.

The full-time, in-person program will combine research with practical applications, preparing students to work in a range of fields, from the sciences and humanities to business and government. With the high demand for data scientists and an increasing amount of data in the world, it’s an exciting time to be studying data science, Blume said.

“It’s almost like data is its own natural resource now,” he explained. “And if you want to learn how to mine that resource, how to understand it and work with it, how it impacts society, then the University of Virginia is the place to be.”

Applications for the Ph.D. in Data Science will be accepted on a rolling basis until the class is full. The program will begin on Aug. 23.