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Professor Norma Bargary

Professor of Data Science and Statistical Learning, University of Limerick 

Skills in data science can be applied across a vast range of sectors, making it a varied and exciting career that offers real opportunity for those with the right expertise.

Professor Norma Bargary is passionate about data science. There are various reasons why — but a key one is the range of opportunities it offers. That might sound surprising, but it’s true. “When you’re a data scientist, every day is different,” she says. “For example, I’m working with data in lots of different sectors including smart manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, finance, cancer research and autonomous vehicles, to name a few. Data is the linking thread. If you have an ability to make sense of data and statistics, you can go anywhere.” And forget the idea that data science isn’t creative. “Everything I do is creative!” says Professor Bargary. “I’m creating new algorithms for a start.”

The term ‘data scientist’ didn’t exist before 2008. “Since then, technology has been developing at an exponential rate and companies are becoming increasingly data-driven,” says Bargary, who is Professor of Data Science and Statistical Learning, at the University of Limerick. “So, it’s no wonder that people with data skills are in such huge demand.”

Prof. Norma Bargary is a great example of UL’s leadership in Data Science, and an excellent role model.

Professor Sean Arkins, the Dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering

Critical skills that underpin your data science career

Professor Bargary didn’t set out to be a data scientist. In fact, she originally studied physiotherapy. “But I’d always enjoyed maths,” she says. “I was one of those kids who’d pick at the questions in their maths book during the summer holidays.”

Deciding to take a degree in mathematical science at the University of Limerick was a life-changing event. “I knew absolutely nothing about statistics, mind you,” she remembers. “Data science didn’t exist as a field at that stage. But I took a statistics module in my first year and thought: ‘This is the career for me.’”

If you’re thinking of a future in data science, you’ll need good critical thinking skills — plus excellent communication skills. If possible, get experience of working with data to make sure that it’s an area that would excite you. If it does, study a degree in a quantitative subject. “It doesn’t have to be a maths degree, per se — but it should be something that gives you a solid foundation in maths, stats and computing,” says Professor Bargary. “With those critical skills you’ll be able to adapt to any changes that might occur in the data science arena in the future.”

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