6 Surprising Degrees That Set You Up for Data Science Success

Kaitlynn Martin May 21, 2019
Graphic of several graduates holding a diploma and writing in a journal

Right brain v. left brain—which one do you prefer? It’s a common assumption that more left-brain professionals are taking the lead in science and math-dominated fields. Comfortable with flexing their analytic muscles, pursuing a data science career—one of the top five jobs in America according to Glassdoor—seems like well, a no brainer.

But what does this mean for the traditionally right-brain folks? Those who find strength in creativity, imagination, and intuition shouldn’t write off a data science career so quickly. Having a non-technical undergraduate degree can actually complement a master’s degree in data science. Although data scientists do rely on math, programming, and more technical skill sets, a data science career isn’t all about numbers. Often, data is gathered from human behavior. As a result, coming into the data science field with little-to-no prior STEM education can give you a more holistic view of how data can evolve and expand into the future.

The need for data scientists reaches into virtually every industry, providing numerous career opportunities. The following undergrad degrees might seem as right-brain areas of studies. However, they could set you up for data science success:


What is it?
Defined as the scientific study of human groups, a sociology degree focuses on understanding how a society functions through the lens of social constructs that affect individuals and entire populations. Sociology has many branches including education, crime, family life, organizations, race, social class, and more. The common goal of sociology is to see the world differently and understand that not everything is what it seems.

How does it relate to data science?
Data is the result of asking questions, and sociology majors are no strangers to examining why something occurs. If you have a goal of advancing contemporary humanity and have an itch to use data as a tool in the process, sociology and data science can be an advantageous coupling of what may otherwise appear as dissimilar interests. By collecting survey data, sociology-driven data scientists seek to study social phenomena, allowing space for both numbers and creative questions to lead their research. The expansion of Big Data is promising for new areas of social research, such as digital behaviors, longitudinal analyses, and network analysis beyond household connections.


What is it?
Simply put, psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. A common assumption of a psychology career focuses on professional therapists who work with a rotation of patients with different needs. However, psychology is a diverse field that touches human development, sports, health, social behavior, cognitive processes, and more. Would you be surprised to learn that data plays an integral part in psychology? Similar to sociology, psychology research aims to answer complex questions regarding human behavior.

How does it relate to data science?
Data science skills, such as research methods and statistics, can help professional psychologists understand data findings and turn them around to drive positive change in patients’ lives. Additionally, by developing evidence-based strategies, those with a psychology background can advance best practices for individuals with learning disabilities. The possibilities of a psychology and data science pairing are expansive and have the potential of truly changing lives.

Public Policy

What is it?
Highlighting social science fields such as economics, public management, and sociology, an undergraduate degree in public policy examines issues within governmental administrations and operations. Adapting theories, research, and models to practice, public policy focuses on how cultural norms, circumstance, and other human differentials affect policy making.

How does it relate to data science?
Research data heavily influences public policy models, which can impact hundreds of thousands of constituent lives. In some states, city government has expanded to include data teams that use civic data to serve communities more effectively. Major questions that a public policy and data science approach can begin to answer include: Can we target outreach and intervention to those at risk of poor health outcomes? Where are there unreported incidents of food poisoning? How can we predict major bridge problems before they happen? How can social media data help identify public safety issues?

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Philosophy & Ethics

What is it?
With a degree in philosophy and ethics, graduates become well-versed in considering the fundamental questions about who we are. By examining historical and present-day philosophical thought, this area of study strengthens critical thinking, persuasive writing, and effective arguing. Subjects such as political philosophy, metaphysics, logic, philosophy of mind, and more are common in coursework, preparing graduates for careers that value strong communication and problem solving.

How does it relate to data science?
Although philosophy is a humanities degree, its approach and skills can easily transfer into a data science role. One data science manager who first earned an undergrad degree in philosophy, notes that his philosophy studies prepared him for the hypothesis-driven, logical practice of data science. A philosophy-data science path also spotlights the timely issue of data use and security. As more companies come under fire for data breaches and misuse, data scientists are tasked with an ethical burden of how to handle data. Having a philosophy background can better position data science professionals to be more involved in ethically sourcing, securing, and verifying complete and accurate data.


What is it?
The world of journalism is no stranger to change. With the decline of traditional print newspapers and magazines and the swift pivot to digital and social media as main sources of breaking news, reporters now need to be at least 10 steps ahead. Dwindling attention spans mean audiences are distracted, requiring journalists to think outside the box to bolster engagement. While the core principles of journalism stay true: serve the public with fact-checked, credible, objective information—the delivery has changed. And, that is where data journalism steps in.

How does it relate to data science?
Journalism, digital media, and data science are all connected. As Big Data evolves in languages and processes, data scientists must understand digital media technologies that provide a platform for their work. Next, it’s critical for journalists to stay abreast of data security, collection, and usage issues that affect the public—knowledgeable reporting comes from plugging in and understanding the ins and outs of the data science world. As a result, journalists with their drive to learn, understand, and inform, can bring all of those skills into a data science role. In effect, having a journalist’s mindset in a data-fueled world can help piece together the bigger picture of how data touches nearly every part of our lives.

Marketing & Business

What is it?
Advertising, promotion, marketing communications, research, targeting, consumer behavior, and other courses prepare a marketing graduate to land a variety of roles. Marketing and business degrees often cross paths, because having a successful business means also maintaining a strong marketing presence. However, the two disciplines cannot be nearly as impactful without understanding data, often in the form of ROI or digital analytics, such as tracking visits, clicks, and conversions on websites and social pages.

How does it relate to data science?
Human behavior, which can be recorded and interpreted through data, is a critical driving factor behind why a marketing or business endeavor flies or flops. In turn, data companies rely on marketers and business professionals to invest in their tools and services, creating a symbiotic relationship flowing with information. Earning a data science graduate degree benefits marketing and business analysts who are looking to take a deeper dive into how data can better inform and predict their brand strategy and campaigns. Having the ability to review and understand data and then the creativity to turn those insights into an optimized branding push is an invaluable skill.

What’s Next?

Do you have a degree in sociology, psychology, public policy, philosophy, journalism, marketing, or business and are intrigued in how data science can expand your professional future? The UW Masters of Science in Data Science online degree can be the bridge between your non-technical education and your next career move.

Earning a master’s degree in data science opens the door to diverse and exciting work with Big Data, and a promising career outlook.

Contact an enrollment adviser to learn about transferable work experience, recent prerequisite coursework, and other admission requirements. Call

608-800-6762 or email

Programs: Data Science