Data Science for Everyone

Big data, analytics, machine learning, data science – we hear about them constantly in the media, sometimes with scary headlines like “Massive Facebook Data Breach” or inspiring headlines like “Data Scientists Discover Earth-like Solar System 2,000 Light Years Away.” But what are they? Simply stated, data science combines programming, statistics, and machine learning to make discoveries from data.

Once the province of tech wunderkinds, data science has moved into the mainstream. Data is constantly produced by the Internet services and smartphones we use, in addition to data from health care and other industries. In the last few years, the demand for data scientists has increased by a factor of 10. If this trend continues, data scientists will be more sought after than software developers in just a few years – and average industry pay is over $100,000/year!

Everyone can take part and benefit from data science. Colleges and universities are offering new degree programs, and many training courses are available for free or at a low-cost through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) via websites like Coursera, edX, or course materials at Harvard and Stanford. For some, it can be challenging to overcome the deep prerequisite knowledge needed for these college-level courses. This has led to the proposals for high -school level data science instruction, for example, by the International Data Science in Schools Project.

Our research team at the Institute for Intelligent Systems is creating a blended and comprehensive approach to data science that assumes no background knowledge in statistics, programming, or machine learning. To date, we have developed a complete 80-hour course in core data science and a 24-hour course on natural language processing for data science. One of our innovations is to simplify the programming aspect of data science using block-based programming, which is widely used to teach programming to younger students. Our materials are freely available at


The DataWhys Project is supported by the National Science Foundation through Grant 1918751 to the University of Memphis

Andrew McGregor Olney

Andrew M. Olney presently serves as Professor in both the Institute for Intelligent Systems and Department of Psychology at the University of Memphis. Dr. Olney received a B.A. in Linguistics with Cognitive Science from University College London in 1998, an M.S. in Evolutionary and Adaptive Systems from the University of Sussex in 2001, and a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Memphis in 2006. His primary research interests are in natural language interfaces. Specific interests include vector space models, dialogue systems, unsupervised grammar induction, robotics, and intelligent tutoring systems.


  1. How can students at UM and folks from of the public (if possible) take one of the great courses you talk about?

  2. How can a UM student or member of the public (if possible) take the excellent courses you mention?

  3. We periodically do a data science online course for professionals. Those interested can contact me and get on the waiting list. Our materials are also freely available at the link above for self-study.

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