'Is there a problem you want to solve?': how to get a place on a tech master's programme

If linear algebra and multivariate calculus set your pulse racing, a master’s degree in the rapidly evolving fields of data science, artificial intelligence (AI) or robotics should be on your radar.

These disciplines are fuelling the modern economy – and every organisation, business and institution is scrambling to hire staff trained in maths-based technologies. Will Collins was working in the oil and gas industry and looking for a career change when he enrolled in the new data science MSc launched in autumn 2020 by the University of Birmingham.

“I’d read in the media that data is the new oil – it is widely available and incredibly valuable but useless unless it is refined. I was really keen to learn more about the data analytics side and how to process all the data that is produced by technology, and to work on innovations using these huge data sets. There’s so much underlying knowledge that can be taken from that,” he says.

Collins has A-level maths and studied further maths during his master’s in chemical engineering. This knowledge is invaluable in studying the algorithms used to find insights from large amounts of data. The maths in the master’s is complex, he says, and the 12-month course is high pressure. He faces the added challenge of remote learning due to the pandemic. But the work is exciting and he’s hopeful of getting a good job after the course, as data scientists are in demand in every area of the economy, from finance and health to entertainment.

“That also attracted me to data science – you are not confined to one segment or industry like oil and gas, you can branch off into different industries,” he says.

Universities are recruiting heavily for their technology master’s degrees to create a pipeline of specialists who can design creative ways of processing data to run robots, software and mobile apps. As well as data science, Birmingham also runs MSc courses in robotics, computer science and AI and machine learning.

Competition for places on technology master’s programmes can be fierce. Pontus Stenetorp, a lecturer in natural language processing at University College London (UCL), says there can be up to 10 applications for each place on master’s courses such as data science and machine learning at UCL. Candidates are chosen not just on their maths grades, though.

“What stands out in an application is if you have an interesting background, if you don’t just come out of a BSc or MSc with good grades. What have you done, what have you learned? Is there a particular thing you want to solve, maybe you want to go into healthcare, maybe you want an academic pursuit with a PhD. That is what you need to write about in your letter of application,” he says.

For the highest performers, jobs beckon in top technology businesses such as Google and Amazon. An exciting option is to get involved with a tech startup looking to create the next Uber or Twitter. Whatever the field, a maths-based technology master’s multiplies your options.


Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.  Learn more