Taking the lead in Data Science

Article by Dr Christa de Kock

In a year of unprecedented events, the Department of Industrial Engineering hosted two new structured postgraduate programmes with a focus on data science. The first intake comprised 27 students for the structured master’s degree programme and 22 students for the postgraduate diploma. The respective programmes each consists of eight modules which are presented during block weeks. The selection of modules vary from Applied Machine Learning and Optimisation to Data Analytics, Big Data Technologies and Deep Learning. Upon completion of the modules, the students who are registered for the master’s degree programme will undertake a final research project and mini-dissertation in the field of data science alongside an industry partner such that the theoretical knowledge gained from the programme may be applied to a relevant industry-related problem.

“Directed by Prof Andries Engelbrecht, the Voigt Chair in Data Science in the Faculty of Engineering, these programmes focus on teaching students innovative optimisation and machine learning techniques to produce novel, efficient and robust data science technologies for use in industrial engineering, engineering management and related applications,” says Dr Christa de Kock, coordinator of the master’s and postgraduate programmes that focus on data science, and also lecturer of a variety of modules and short courses. “With the programmes allowing for full-time and part-time options, it is structured in such a manner to serve individuals from industry, as well as recently graduated students.”

Students from other closely-related degree programmes are also granted the opportunity to register for these modules, per occasion, as a thesis-aligned module. In the programmes’ pilot year, a total of 101 unique student registrations were received across all of the modules presented. Of these students, 85,1% are South African, while 9,9% are international students and the information pertaining to the remaining 5% are unknown. It is further apparent from the age profile of the cohort that at least 30% of the students fall within the age bracket of 25 to 65, which typically corresponds to individuals from industry.

Amidst the ever-evolving technological advancements, it is imperative for companies to remain at the forefront and to maintain a competitive edge in ensuring that their employees have the necessary background to create innovative data science solutions. The First National Bank (FNB) embraced the opportunity and enrolled 10 of their employees to the aforementioned postgraduate diploma programme. Over and above the employees registered for the postgraduate diploma, six data science short courses are exclusively hosted for FNB by the Department of Industrial Engineering.

Dr de Kock concludes: “Great endeavours are bound to face some challenges that arise along the way, such as the impact of COVID-19 on the overall academic programme. It is, however, with determination fuelled by a collective vision and the harnessing of team efforts that these challenges are addressed, mitigated and ultimately embraced. An online teaching and learning environment was created and the data science lecturer team at the Department of Industrial Engineering continues in their pursuit of providing first-class lectures to the student cohorts. For the 2021 intake, we have already accepted 65 students for the master’s programme and 40 for the postgraduate diploma.”

Get more information regarding the programmes.

Photo collage:

The data science lecturer team at the Department of Industrial Engineering are far left Prof Andries Engelbrecht, far right Dr Christa de Kock. Circle in centre clockwise from the top left Prof Jan van Vuuren, Prof Jacomine Grobler, Stephan Nel, Dr Franco van Wyk, Dr Jacques du Toit and Dr Thorsten Schmidt-Dumont.