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Careers of the Future: Blending Theory and Practice with Big Data


Careers of the Future: Blending Theory and Practice with Big Data

Respondents to the PreparedU Project research study identified four top initiatives that, along with a commitment to lifelong learning, can help millennials prepare for workplace success. In this second installment of our seven-week Careers of the Future series, Professor Lucy Kimball describes the advantages of blending practical and theoretical learning in preparing for careers in “Big Data.”  

Millennial students can better prepare for future careers when they are exposed to both the theoretical and applied approaches for mastering a discipline. In the case of mathematical sciences, it makes a world of difference when the subject is studied at a business school like Bentley University.

Why? Because millennial math majors with a solid grounding in both business fundamentals and mathematical theory are likely to be hired first; they’ll also probably enjoy a faster career trajectory than those whose educational experience has been rooted in either business or mathematical theory alone.

This is a key differentiation and distinction at the undergraduate level, where the applied approach is fairly unusual. More specifically, the market is increasingly demanding a combination of quantitative skills and a knowledge of business fundamentals, which is precisely what we offer our students at Bentley.

If other universities and colleges adopt our approach, they are likely to experience the same program popularity and growth that Bentley has with its actuarial science program. More importantly, their students will be ready to take full advantage of a field with future growth potential that few others can offer. 

In the past, students who focused on actuarial science were primarily headed to insurance companies after graduation. And, once they were on the job, they analyzed data and used historical patterns to help determine insurance rates and set reserves.

But now that has changed and expanded. A wide range of industries — from financial services to consulting to consumer products and services — want students who can jump right into predictive modeling jobs and have the skills to move into future management positions.

This employer demand is exploding, because every company and every industry wants to understand all the data that they are generating and gathering.

As a result, a new wave of graduate-level study — including Bentley’s Master of Science degree in Business Analytics, which starts in September 2014 — is taking hold on a host of campuses. In Bentley’s case, we’ve been training analytics professionals at the graduate level since the early 1990’s, so this is an extension of our program.

Our expanded higher-level program is being driven by the proliferation of Big Data today. It’s about understanding and explaining masses of data in order to make better business decisions. It’s also about understanding the capabilities of sophisticated software packages in this area, as well as the underlying mathematical assumptions and techniques. While this approach makes our program unique in its scope, many other schools are also now scrambling to help fill the demonstrated employer need for business data and analytics experts.

Another important aspect of preparing millennials for careers is the need to draw upon the expertise of corporate partners.

Liberty Mutual, Epsilon and Vistaprint are good examples, joining us in the classroom to help explain real-world applications of techniques the students have mastered in math classes.

We’re also getting critical input from corporate partners so that both students and faculty can keep up with the variety of software packages that are currently being used to analyze data.

This is vitally important. Preparing millennials for future careers means making sure that they are facile with a wide range of software packages. The ability to step in and handle whatever software is being used at the corporate level really helps when students graduate and look for jobs. And it actually opens up doors and opportunities for them once they are inside companies.

Data is going to define so many different careers in the future, including many that don’t even exist today. And the millennials who can mobilize a comprehensive understanding of mathematical principles — practical and applied — to define real questions, gather the necessary data, subject it to rigorous review and develop responsive strategies will find enormous professional opportunity in the coming years.

Lucia Kimball is Professor of Mathematical Sciences and Chair of the Mathematical Sciences Department

Careers of the Future Series

Read other installments in our seven-week Careers of the Future Series:

Our 21st Century Mission: Preparing Students for Careers of the Future
Human-Centered Design Is Putting Innovative Insights Into Action
Sustainability, the Merging of Science and Business
Economics Has Many Career Options, from Rock Singer to President of the United States
Accounting Helps Students Get Beyond the Numbers
Will You Be Able to Recognize the Next Big Thing?

Learn more about Bentley’s PreparedU Project, which examines challenges facing millennial workers, the companies that employ them and the colleges and universities that prepare them.


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