A evaluate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Online Master of Computer Science in Data Science.

M Khorasani
Photo by Myriam Jessier on Unsplash

In a post-COVID dystopia or utopia relying on which part of the cup of water you’re taking a look at, the relevance of an internet medium during which some extent will also be administered, finished and conferred can not most likely be overstated. A once-in-a-century pandemic apart, there’s a multitude of different causes for which one may just ponder enrolling in an internet program. Namely, being a running skilled with restricted time, being a mother or father with youngsters to juggle or just no longer gaining access to a world-class college at your step. Any aggregate of the aforementioned grounds, can render an internet level as an attractive choice and even as a sole lodge.

My tale started in early 2018. Having delved into the fourth 12 months of a post-graduation occupation, I noticed that the following logical step could be obtaining a masters level. Given the aggressive business that I paintings in (analysis & construction) and the ever converting panorama of the task marketplace, I knew I needed to maintain extra mind injury to stay related. While my bachelors have been in Mechanical Engineering, my paintings as a Development Engineer on the time solicited that I increase information mining and information visualization tool. As a end result, I had received a wealth of publicity and affinity in opposition to objected-oriented programming, information constructions and algorithms. This coupled with the belief that information science was once going to be as ubiquitous and impactful because the web itself, satisfied me to pursue it with out hesitation.

Having a full-time task and no longer gaining access to a school providing a masters in information science in my neighborhood, I used to be directed to scout the web for on-line systems. While I had reservations to start with referring to on-line levels, basically because of the destructive conations and stigma related to them, I promptly learned that such impulses had been ill-founded and that there’s if truth be told a briefly rising group of a success execs who’ve finished their levels on-line with tangibly certain effects. Mind you, no longer all on-line systems are permitted and even professional, subsequently due diligence is strongly urged.

At the time there was once just a handful of on-line information science systems, versus the present unexpectedly increasing checklist. Given that I used to be no longer in reality going to go back and forth to any of the campuses, location was once clearly no longer an element that I took under consideration. My major considerations had been the establishment’s recognition in pc science, pupil opinions and tuition charges. The simplest shortlisted candidate, subsequently, was once the MCS-DS program introduced by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Given UIUC rating 5th nationally in pc science, it’s certain opinions and reasonably priced tuition charges ($600/credit score hour on the time which was once a fragment of on campus charges), I appeared no additional and implemented for admission for the summer season semester. While UT Austin’s Online Master of Science in Data Science program didn’t exist then (first providing — Spring 2021), it might had been an excessively tricky choice to make had I been confronted with each choices. Perhaps there could be a delicate leaning in opposition to UT Austin because of its significantly decrease tuition charges (~$300/credit score hour).

Much to my sadness, then again, I used to be rejected after a number of weeks. Upon enquiry, I used to be given a rather generic reaction declaring that candidates with inadequate background in object-oriented programming, information constructions, algorithms and linear algebra would no longer be appropriate applicants for this program except they had been in a position to end up differently. Admittedly, receiving a rejection made the entire program much more attractive to me; name it psychology if you’ll, however I used to be extra resolute in gaining admission after that. Therefore, I determined to enrol in different quick MOOC’s in each and every of the ones 4 spaces and to reapply for the autumn semester with the certificates hyperlinks integrated in my utility. That perceived to have completed the trick and I used to be extremely joyful to obtain an excessively past due admission (~four weeks previous to the beginning of the semester) for UIUC’s MCS-DS Fall of 2018 cohort.

Academic advisors:
Academic advisors had been supremely useful and responsive with the enrolment, direction variety and different logistics that pertained to the executive facet of issues. What I’m in particular thankful for, is they frequently larger capability to permit scholars to enrol in categories they sought after to and at all times larger capability to permit scholars to take the categories they had to graduate on time.

Academic rigor:
As with any college, the educational rigor and high quality of schooling range from direction to direction. With MCS-DS, the curriculum and school providing it are nearly the similar because the on campus model. Some of the themes studied had been exhaustive whilst others had been at an introductory or intermediate stage. As a ways as assignments and tasks went, the extent of problem was once somewhat intense; boilerplates had been unforgiving to programmatic or syntactic mistakes and venture submissions had been graded strictly. Similarly, experiences of scholars slacking off on workforce tasks had been taken significantly, and no person was once introduced a unfastened go to commencement. The identical can’t be said concerning the quizzes and examinations then again. It felt as though it had been too simple to go the quizzes — some lessons allowed a number of retakes and for the reason that maximum questions had been a number of desire, it intended that passing a quiz was once occasionally a question of trial and mistake in reality. Exams had been extra exhausting and not using a retakes authorised, all over again maximum questions had been multiple-choice which intended that the extent of figuring out being examined was once rather shallow. Perhaps this system administrators must create checks with a structure that extra carefully exams a pupil’s grab on the subject material.

Coursera:
Coursera served as the point of interest between all of the cloud infrastructure that was once used to supply this system. Overall, the mixing between MCS-DS and Coursera was once rather seamless and person pleasant. Assignments might be submitted very easily, boilerplates labored simply effective and the content material was once arranged in a extremely structured approach. However, a predicament that persevered from the primary semester proper till the final, was once the lengthen (as much as one week) with which enrolled categories had been added to the Coursera platform initially of each and every semester. While I have no idea who guilty for this inconvenience, it was once moderately abnormal that it was once by no means solved.

Course choices:
The most obvious factor that exhibited itself with MCS-DS was once the restricted quantity of lessons introduced each and every semester. Options had been in most cases restricted to 2 in each and every core house and even one within the case of the device finding out breadth coursework on the time. Consequently, I had no desire however to withdraw one whole semester (Fall of 2019) and graduate a semester later. I understood that this was once to be anticipated from a program in its infancy and feature spotted that because it has matured, further lessons had been added.

Piazza & Slack:
Piazza was once used successfully as a digital lecture room the place scholars, TA’s and professors may just engage. Unlike Coursera, lessons had been at all times arrange and able to enroll in proper initially of the semester. Similarly Slack was once used as a extra casual discussion board basically for college students to have interaction in separate channels for each and every category and one total channel for all of the program. Team tasks had been performed the use of each equipment that have been extremely efficient in facilitating communique and enriching the whole revel in.

ProctorU:
Exams had been performed by ProctorU which charged scholars one after the other and introduced versatile instances for college students to behavior their examinations on-line. Their proctors had been skilled, assistive and tech savvy, which made it an total certain revel in. Prior to each and every take a look at, the proctors would attach remotely on your pc, would then flip in your microphone and webcam and would ask you to completely display them your rapid surroundings so that you could mitigate the chance of dishonest. There are those that believe the integrity of an internet examination to be a sham, however truthfully, it might most definitely be approach more straightforward to cheat on campus than it might be on-line. ProctorU had its fair proportion of technical problems that occasionally led to checks being began past due and even being completely neglected and having to be rescheduled. I’m hoping they are able to even out those problems at some point as on-line exams turn into ever extra provide.

Programming stack:
The workhorse of MCS-DS is, sure you guessed it — the much-beloved Python. Most lessons had been to be had simplest in Python whilst others authorised the use of C++ and Java. The major programs utilized in Python had been: Numpy, Matplotlib, Plotly, Pandas, OpenCV, Scikit-learn, NLTK, spaCY and SciPy. Where vital, different lessons provisioned programming in Java, Javascript, R and SQL however just for a couple of make a selection assignments. In addition, Docker, Jupyter Notebooks, Anaconda and GitLab had been used every now and then.

Professors:
An on-line level is rather of a surreal revel in. It is going with out pronouncing that you simply’re in reality lacking out on that useful student-professor interplay. Luckily the school within the MCS-DS program in large part made up for that by attractive ceaselessly with scholars. Correspondence was once infrequently ever completed thru electronic mail and as an alternative, Piazza and Zoom had been used automatically to reply to questions and to carry reside classes. If the rest, I in reality felt that I used to be encountering my professors extra frequently than an on campus level. There was once additionally a really perfect deal of empathy; professors ceaselessly accommodated to the busy schedules of scholars in this system upon request.

Teaching assistants:
Probably the most productive revel in in my 4 semesters in MCS-DS was once interacting with the TA’s. UIUC assigned one TA consistent with fifty scholars which truthfully was once greater than sufficient for the reason that maximum of our assignments had been graded with boilerplates and TA’s had been basically there to reply to scholars’ questions. The program coordinators had been even sort sufficient to allocate further TA’s every time lessons have been over-enrolled in, which I discovered to be very accountable of them and a sign that they weren’t keen to compromise at the high quality of the schooling. TA’s had been tremendous good, many of them had been neatly acclaimed researchers in the similar fields themselves. They frequently went out of their solution to help, with staggering moderate reaction instances of beneath one hour (verified by Piazza) in lots of instances.

Time control:
The personal sacrifice made was once a defining function of this system. Weekends had been most commonly non-existent and you’ll be expecting to commit a median of ten hours per week to each and every direction (extra in opposition to the top of a semester). I used to be on a dash to complete in 4 semesters leading to me taking two semesters with two categories, one with 3 and every other with one. For any running person equivalent to myself, I’d no longer counsel taking a couple of category consistent with semester, assuming that you simply additionally enrol in summer season semesters to graduate on time (you will have to graduate inside 5 years). Pace your self out and take a look at to agenda checks neatly upfront to keep away from getting slots stuffed up and having to ebook an adverse time. Familiarize your self with the curriculum and in case you are taking a number of lessons a semester then attempt to keep away from herculean topics (of which there are a couple of).

As I clearly can not evaluate the lessons that I didn’t take, I extremely counsel listening keenly to different scholars who’ve taken a subject matter prior to you enrol in that very same topic. A deficient get started to some extent could be a rapid solution to develop disenchanted. All lessons are 4 credit score hours, then again some really feel extra like 3 and even two credit score hours. There are in most cases two tracks one can observe on this program, particularly, cloud computing and information mining. I decided on the latter however looking back I want I had selected the cloud computing observe as it’s extra related to my paintings.

Text Information Systems (Fall 2018):
This is one of the themes introduced within the information mining observe and can be utilized as a pre-requisite for the knowledge mining capstone. You achieve an introductory stage of publicity to file rating, herbal language processing and textual content mining algorithms — all of which can be extremely sensible and ubiquitous ways used business vast. The stage of problem is reasonable and the fruits of the category is a venture that binds a number of of the learnt ideas in combination.

Foundations of Data Curation (Fall 2018):
This topic is in reality introduced by the School of Information Sciences and no longer the Computer Science Department. It is without a doubt one of the ones topics that feels extra like two credit score hours and simplest scrapes probably the most summary stage ideas relating to the provenance, schema and lifecycle of information. This direction was once a walk within the park in phrases of problem and in a reincarnated existence I’d most definitely consider carefully about taking it.

Introduction to Data Mining (Spring 2019):
This is every other topic within the information mining observe which felt just like the logical successor to textual content data methods. It supplies nice intensity and concentrate on a number of key ideas equivalent to common development mining, supervised/unsupervised finding out and Naïve Bayes classifiers. You get the chance to instantly follow realized ideas with programming assignments or even an internet contest. The stage of problem is quite onerous and the received wisdom could be a treasure trove.

Cloud Computing Applications (Spring 2019):
This is clearly one of the cloud computing observe topics and is arguably the very best one within the observe (the opposite two being Cloud Networking and Cloud Computing Concepts). You are given treasured insights into IaaS, MapReduce, Hadoop and Apache Spark among many different giant information frameworks, however the principle problem is this direction sacrifices intensity for breadth. At instances you’re feeling beaten by the multitude of subjects you’re finding out, when you’re no longer in reality growing a lot prowess in any of the person spaces. In addition, a number of of the equipment had been out of date by the time they had been being taught and this topic was once in want of a significant overhaul which I know it has won since.

Theory and Practice of Data Cleaning (Summer 2019):
Probably one of probably the most helpful topics in MCS-DS. You briefly delve into SQL, Regex and OpenRefine which for me grew to become out to be essential equipment at paintings and I actually admire the relevance it introduced. The whole category was once composed of programming assignments and one ultimate venture that had been all rather easy and relaxing.

Data Mining Capstone (Summer 2019):
This was once the not obligatory capstone for the knowledge mining observe and will simplest be taken after finishing two lessons inside the observe. Honestly, it was once a large sadness given the prime expectancies that I had. Assignments had been very open-ended recycles of previous programming assignments taken in Text Information Systems and Introduction to Data Mining that had been implemented to a big Yelp dataset. There was once additionally one literature evaluate activity and a venture that required you to deploy a knowledge mining app to the cloud which was once most definitely the one helpful activity. Everything was once peer-graded and subsequently it felt extra like a MOOC (which it in reality was once) than a credit score direction.

Data Visualization (Summer 2019):
This was once one of the most productive topics in this system, the place you had been accustomed to Tableau, D3.js, DOM and Vega. At the time information visualization was once obligatory as there was once no different choice on this house and was once simplest introduced in the summertime semester — this was once no longer superb for lots of however however it may be anticipated from an toddler program. The ultimate venture required you to increase and deploy an interactive dashboard to the cloud which was once most definitely the one maximum impactful project in all of the MCS-DS program.

Computational Photography (Spring 2020):
Due to Applied Machine Learning no longer being introduced within the Spring of 2020, we got the selection of enrolling in Computational Photography instead or delaying commencement by a 12 months. I will be able to’t say many had been glad after they learned that they might be finishing a program in information science with out taking a unmarried device finding out direction, however fortunately for me I had already taken an considerable quantity of it in Introduction to Data Mining previous. This category was once distinctive within the sense that it concerned about an excessively slender subject in pc imaginative and prescient however went into excessive depths of the subject. We had been taught the right way to follow photographic sewing, morphing, texture synthesis and mixing. This was once in all probability probably the most tricky topic for me in MCS-DS and the educational curve was once somewhat steep. It was once no longer very related to my line of paintings, however I’m certain many would be capable of make the most of this in different spaces.

For the ones of us who’re nonetheless considering whether or not an internet level could be a worthy exchange to an on campus schooling, then I will have to say that there is not any one measurement suits all answer. In different phrases, there is not any such factor as the most productive college, however there may be any such factor as the most productive college for YOU. Given one’s instances, there merely is also no different choice than an internet schooling. Granted that the networking alternatives provide on campus don’t seem to be in reality to be had on-line and that during itself is a deal breaker for lots of. For me in my opinion, UIUC’s MCS-DS made the entire distinction on the earth; even prior to graduating, I used to be astounded to peer the inflow of recruiters contacting me on RelatedIn once I added this system to my profile. And in my ultimate semester, I used to be in a position to line up a brand new task that I started instantly upon commencement, only as a result of of this level. I’m thankful for the doorways it opened as much as me and I frequently to find myself recommending this program to friends and family. Online levels are turning into an increasing number of prevalent and I’m hoping that UIUC can deal with the similar stage of high quality and rigor at some point.

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