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What Is Data Science?

UW Extended Campus May 18, 2015
A chart showing multiple data points.

Today, data-savvy professionals who possess the requisite skills in computer science, statistics, applied mathematics, and visualization are in high demand. Professionals with these skills will enable their employers to become high-performance, data-driven organizations that make better decisions based on deep knowledge and understanding.

Here are just a few of the fields being transformed by data science today:


From the early days of the Industrial Revolution, factory owners have sought out ways to improve the efficiency of their production lines. Today, data science enables manufacturers to improve processes, speed production, increase quality, reduce waste, and boost profits. Insights gained from big data can help manufacturers optimize supply chains and delivery routes, maximize factory floor space, and even predict equipment malfunctions and failures.


Data mining and predictive analytics enable retailers to forecast demand and manage inventories more effectively, make smart recommendations based on buying patterns, and improve the customer experience. Today, retailers can gain a deeper understanding of consumer trends and purchase decisions. Some retailers now use heat sensors and video data to optimize their store layouts. Many retailers offer customer loyalty programs based on purchase behavior and preferences.


In the age of big data, marketers are better able than ever to make sure the right messages reach the right people at the right times. Equipped with an unprecedented array of demographic and psychographic information, they can personalize marketing messages, offers, and new products to specific audiences, reach likely prospects more effectively through location- and behavior-based advertisements, and track the success or failure of their websites, promotions, and social media engagements so they can optimize and improve their efforts.


Smart-grid technologies and the Internet of Things (wherein traditionally non-computerized objects are embedded with sensors, systems, or software so they can “talk” to manufacturers, operators, and other connected devices) enable utilities to better monitor and forecast their customers’ energy use, predict power outages and equipment failures, identify inefficiencies in a single building or a larger system, and personalize their services to match their customers’ behaviors and preferences.


By far, the transaction-heavy financial services industry generates more data than any other business sector. Today, data analysts track and predict the impact of geopolitical events on financial markets. Financial analysts use customer transaction data, social media, and real-time market information to run complex simulations and predict market booms and busts. Banks use real-time analytics to manage investment risks and protect customers from fraud.


The rise of big data is a boon for healthcare. With the advent of the electronic health record and the unprecedented amounts of knowledge at their fingertips, doctors can provide faster and more accurate diagnoses. Health agencies can predict potential epidemics and identify the sources of outbreaks. Analyses of large-scale genetic data enable personalized treatments for individual patients. Healthcare providers use smartphone applications and wearable sensors to monitor vital signs and self-reported behavior data to identify patients who need help.

Travel and Transportation

With data collected from Google, in-car cameras, and mounted GPS units, data scientists can help keep people safer on the roads. They can track which car parts are likely to wear down. They can pull weather, wind, and traffic data to predict travel delays and route changes. This information can give personalized itineraries and even mobile device–messaging services for individual drivers.

Local and National Security

Data science can help law enforcement agencies track and capture criminals, but also prevent crime before it happens. The Smart Policing initiative in use by dozens of police departments across the country analyzes trends and geographic patterns to help identify likely crime areas. Analysis of sensor information, video surveillance, global positioning data, social media, credit card transactions, and other sources enables law enforcement to detect and counter terrorism, cyberattacks, and other threats.

Find Your Future in Big Data

As you can see, the sky is the limit for data scientists in the age of big data, and the world is rife with opportunities for you to make a difference. How will you change the world?


What’s Next?

University of Wisconsin offers an online Master of Science in Data Science and online Graduate Certificate in Data Science.

Start your journey.

Curious about what data scientists doFind out here.

Have questions about University of Wisconsin Data Science? Contact an enrollment adviser at 608-800-6762 or

Programs: Data Science