Nov 04 2014

Michigan State Wants a Big Data Professor on Campus

Explosive growth in the data science field is pushing higher education to extend its analytics expertise.

There is a torrent of information flooding today's higher education institutions. Michigan State University is hoping to find Big Data experts to turn it into results.

Putting Big Data to use in an educational setting takes a special set of skills. MSU’s College of Communication Arts and Sciences recently held a search for an assistant professor of Big Data and health, a position that will lead courses on data analytics and IT in the Department of Media and Information.

"We seek a scholar conducting cutting-edge social and/or technical research utilizing big data approaches — including theory-building, analytics, applications, and effects," according to MSU’s job listing, which has expired, but is still available on LinkedIn.

Steve Wildman, a professor in the Media and Information Department, says the search committee is now processing more than 40 applications for the position. The applicants come from diverse backgrounds, including social sciences and statistics, he says.

"We want the person to be able to teach our students and quite possibly do research on other topics as well," Wildman says. “You can't guess at social sciences without a good theoretical perspective, and that's what we're about.”

The person chosen for the new position will serve as the authority within the Media and Information Department on Big Data courses and topics, Wildman says.

The assistant professor also will work with Trifecta, a partnership of three colleges at MSU, communication arts and sciences, engineering, and nursing. The goal will be to improve research innovations and healthcare solutions through technology, according to an Oct. 24 blog post by Trifecta Director Shelia Cotten.

New positions like this professorship are emerging in a time of huge demand for IT professionals, including data experts. In 2012, a senior vice president at IT research and advisory firm Gartner estimated 4.4 million IT jobs will be created globally by 2015. Sriram Mohan, an associate professor at Indiana's Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, says higher education needs to step up to fill those positions.

“Is there a shortage of people with the requisite combination of programming, data management skills, and statistical and mathematical ability? Yes. Can we in academia develop more of those people? Absolutely. But we are going to need the help of industry to accomplish that,” he wrote in the summer 2014 issue of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education.

Sergey Nivens/Thinkstock

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