University of Technology Sydney
Team - who worked on the project/initaitve
The Master of Data Science and Innovation (MDSI) was developed by a team of academics and senior professional staff at the University of Technology Sydney in 2013. It was launched in 2014 and the first cohort commenced in 2015. Dr Theresa Anderson was appointed to manage the degree from its inception.
Professor Simon Buckingham Shum
Director, Connected Intelligence Centre
Dr Theresa Anderson
Senior Lecturer and Course Coordinator
Overview - a summary to introduce the project or initiative
The Master of Data Science and Innovation (MDSI) provides students with the core technical and mathematical skills essential to lead teams in a data-intensive world. However, facing the challenges of ambiguity and uncertainty that are characteristic of the data-intensive environments most individuals and organisations face, calls upon the development of creative as well as analytic capacities. MDSI students develop a human-centred perspective on big data: a critical mind that thinks ethically and systemically about the uses of data and analytics.
MDSI students are encouraged to develop skills suited to their particular professional and aspirational goals. Their program of study exposes them to the range of tools currently available in the data science arena. The program also places heavy emphasis on the critical and creative capacities needed to not only work with big data tools available today but to proactively engage with the challenges brought on by future contexts.
The transdisciplinary approach tackles the challenges of working intensively and innovatively with data by helping our students to develop three key qualities: Connected, Creative and Collective Intelligence. It is the 'Collective' aspect that is the key focus of this submission - generating highly functioning, independently minded, team members.
Actions / Initatives - Detail the actions implemented to achieve the project or initative
Dr Anderson quickly identified the need to 'curate' the admissions process for the MDSI. A degree like the MDSI calls for capability in computer science and statistics, but Dr Anderson recognised that to be truly successful in this particular degree, one would also need to be a creative thinker, a leader, a team player, and to understand the business problem that needed solving. This multi-dimensional, transdisciplinary capability is not something that can be identified through a previous qualification, or a list of positions held. As a result, Dr Anderson extended the admissions process to include interviews and personal statements, particularly for people from non-scientific/mathematical backgrounds. She was looking for people with potential; inclusive, passionate, inquisitive and creative individuals.
As is abundantly clear in the government's response to STEM education, this approach meant that a number of women who would otherwise have been excluded from the program were considered, accepted and of these candidates, many have gone on to be the first cohort's success stories.
Approach - Detail the approach that was taken on the project or initative
The interview process sought to identify candidates from non-traditional backgrounds (ie, not maths or computing science based undergraduate degrees) with the potential to succeed and lead in a 'data intensive' environment. Asking for personal statements detailing interests in the program and experience with data also offered a snapshot of their passions and motivations.
Dr Anderson identified candidates who were diverse, creative, collaborative and inclusive in their approach to business problems. Her research has been gender-minded, including investigation of concepts around the glass ceiling and the hidden work of women, hence having a clear understanding of the barriers that women face entering male dominated fields. This research informs the gender-minded, inclusive approach that now characterises the MDSI student experience.
Dr Anderson ensured that the MDSI environment was one that supported and mentored students, including teaching and professional staff to the degree, but also amongst the student cohort. She has emphasised the need for data science to be a team sport that plays to all participants' strengths and builds capacity where there is weakness.
Students are encouraged to mentor one another, not simply showcase what they already know. Subsequently assessment design rewards the process of learning and supporting the learning of others.
Follow up / response - Details the follow up or response to the project or initative
The general cohort has benefited from Dr Anderson's approach, but in particular, the women from social sciences or arts backgrounds as well as women with STEM backgrounds, returning to work/study after time out of the workforce.
One of the MDSI's greatest success stories is a young woman who was excluded in the first round of offers in the traditional selection process. Dr Anderson identified potential in the candidate and invited her to an interview and she was subsequently accepted into the degree.
This student went on to be the first hire by the NSW Government for the Data Analytic Centre (DAC), prior to completing her degree. She led the successful team in the NSW DAC Hackathon and is repeatedly named the “most valuable player” by the team members in classroom and extra-curricular data challenges such as the MVP.
Dr Anderson described the candidate as 'initially a self-doubter who down-played her abilities' but with the support of Dr Anderson's approach, encouraging her to take on increasingly outward facing roles, she has matured into a confident and inclusive team leader who willingly steps forward to present her case.
Action to overcome resistance - Details the actions taken to overcome resistance to the project or initiative
Dr Anderson promotes a culture of gender-minded and inclusive pedagogy. Students in the MDSI are left with no doubt that they will need to understand the science behind the data, but equally importantly, they need to harness the collective intelligence of the talents available to them.
Dr Anderson has fostered an environment where students work in a range of settings, independently and in teams. They connect their learning to their day jobs in diverse sectors, coming together periodically for immersive face-to-face meetings and staying connected using digital and social tools that Dr Anderson has helped to build and promote.
The students in the MDSI experience first hand what it means to work in an analytics team, and they are mentored and supported through Dr Anderson's leadership.