Continuous Approximation: From Physics to Data Science


Talk for JMU Physics Department Alumnus of the Year Homecoming Seminar.


The field of data science has exploded in the last couple years, and each year shows increasing demand for hiring Data Scientists. In fact, the demand for hiring Data Scientists increased by 256% between December 2013 and December 2018. The field of data science is young, and there are few formal training programs. Companies often meet the demand by hiring people with STEM or social science backgrounds. For newcomers interested in the field, it can be difficult to cut through the hype and figure out what exactly Data Scientists do.

In this talk, I will describe what professional data science actually entails, from mathematical problem solving to experimental design and analysis to rigorous software engineering. I will reveal why data science is so popular among physicists, using personal case studies to show the many similarities data science shares with physics. At the same time, there are differences between these fields, and physicists must learn new skills in order to succeed in data science. I will close with sharing tips on how physicists can fill in their skills gaps should they be interested in pursuing data science as a career.