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The first data scientists: "In this way, we will foresee the future"

The students of "Stochastics and Data Science" are going to graduate

Italy, July 17, 2017
by Lorenza Castagneri

They will become the first data scientists in Italy, a profession highly sought after today. 

The definition is not very accurate, but it helps to make it clearer. Nobody, before the six students of Turin University who will graduate on July 19, has ever obtained a Master's degree in Stochastics and Data Science in the Mathematics class. 

It is a new interdisciplinary course on themes of great relevance and usefulness, taught in English, launched by the university, ahead of everyone else, two years ago. 

"And now we get to the first goal," says the coordinator, Professor Laura Sacerdote. 

The idea of this path came from her, along with some colleagues from the departments of Mathematics, Information Technology and Economics-Social Sciences and Mathematics-Statistics that have collaborated to organize it. The professor says, "We were inspired by what was happening in the world and looking at American and British universities."

"Today," she explains, "thanks to new technologies, we collect huge amounts of data. Just think about the economic or sanitary ones, which need to be cleaned and analyzed to offer useful information for decision makers or, ultimately, to the population. We taught the students how to do this."

In the first class, started in 2015, there are 29 members, including a girl from Iran and a young boy from Pakistan but, over the years, the number of foreigners has grown to become a third of the total. Most of them will discuss their thesis in October, except for the six graduates next week, who have been able to accelerate the end of their studies.

Some of them worked on their final project alongside teachers while others wanted to tell us about their internship experience in a company. What they have in common are the strong theoretical bases provided by professors. "We did not want to underestimate this aspect, which distinguishes Italian education. However, especially in the second and third semester, students also do training in practical applications," explains the coordinator.

The course is not held at a closed number of students, although it gets a maximum of 60 students and acceptance is after an interview to ensure that candidates have the required basic knowledge. After that there are exams concerning Probability, Analysis and Statistics, and it continues with studies in evolving phenomena with many variables (the stochastics) and doing data analysis with algorithms and learning machines (the data science). 

"The ultimate goal is to teach how to build models to make predictions about the future on the basis of the numbers collected," adds Sacerdote. Like, for example, the sales trend of a store. But the scope of application of these techniques is multiple. The University of Turin did not want the course to be specialized in a defined area. "We provide the basis. Students will evaluate where to use this knowledge”. 

A winning choice. 

Sacerdote reveals, "One of our graduates has been nominated for three PhDs in the UK, and each one has a very different area of study and, for all three PhDs, he has been called the ideal student. We are very happy." 

Meanwhile, even in Turin, after the summer, this student will start an innovative Ph.D. on a highly linked theme to this Master’s Degree: Modeling and Data Science.


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