UT doctoral program all about data

5/22/2017

A new doctoral program at the University of Tennessee Knoxville will look at data, the way it’s collected and how it can be used to make advancements in other disciplines.

The data science and engineering, or “Big Data,” Ph.D. program comes in the midst of an increase in data being made possible through the advent of the digital age and will be the third program of its type across the nation, according to experts at UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which will partner with UT on the program.

“All kinds of systems are collecting lots of data,” said Russell Zaretzki, an associate professor at UT’s Haslam College of Business who will head the new program. “It’s more than ever and it’s being stored. So now is the time where you could actually attempt to take that data and find meaningful aspects or get a better understanding of the world through that data.”

Zaretzki listed electronic medical records, location data that is collected on cellphones and GPS units and personal health data, like the kind collected by FitBits, as examples of new sources of data. There are also more esoteric sources of data like ORNL’s Spallatian Neutron Source that will provide the basis for data research in the new program.

Shaun Gleason, director of the computational science and engineering division at ORNL and a developer of the new Ph.D. program, also pointed to genomic data as a type of healthcare data that students might analyze. Health and biological sciences is one of seven focus areas Ph.D students in the program will choose from.

“From that genomic data we can infer how to better care for a person, what kind of diseases might they be prone to based on their genetic makeup, and most importantly, what kinds of treatment might they respond best to,” Gleason said.

ORNL already employs a number of data scientists yet Gleason said the new program will be unique in connecting data scientists to scientific domains outside of national security, an area that the lab has traditionally focused on when it comes to data.

The program, which hopes to enroll 15 students this fall and grow towards a population of about 100 students at any given time, will be housed in the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education at UT Knoxville. Students will also have mentors and work on research at ORNL.

The College of Engineering at UT Chattanooga and the UT Health Science Center in Memphis will also be partners in the program, which is being modeled off UT Knoxville’s energy science and engineering doctorate, also in the Bredesen Center.

Students will be eligible for tuition waivers and stipends of up to $30,000 annually in the program.

Gleason said it will help meet a growing demand for data scientists at research institutions like ORNL, which is also home to Titan, the world’s most powerful supercomputer with vast data computing capabilities.

“There’s this gap in the middle between the scientists and the computational power available,” Shaun said. “Data scientists can bridge that gap. They can work with the scientists on one end to get the data and understand the data, and they can work with the high performance computing people that put the data in and analyze it at a high speed on a big computer.”

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Rachel Ohm

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit www.eteda.org

Back to News Listing