Create Announcement

This feature requires that you be logged in as a Google Classroom teacher and that you have an active class in Google Classroom.

If you are a Google Classroom teacher, please log in now.

For additional information about using Science Buddies with Google Classroom, see our FAQ.

A woman points to graphs on a computer monitor

A data scientist could...

Analyze video game players' online behavior to make a game more engaging and profitable. A child with an excited expression holding a video game controller Help a coach make the right game decision by providing them with data about which play has the most chance of succeeding. A quarterback throwing a football in a crowded stadium
Inspire a new social media tool by looking at millions of interactions between mobile phone users. A map displayed on a smartphone Prevent a tragedy by looking for behavioral changes of a terrorist group to predict the time and place of a terrorist attack. Seal for the Central Intelligence Agency
Find out more...

Key Facts & Information

Overview Many aspects of peoples' daily lives can be summarized using data, from what is the most popular new video game to where people like to go for a summer vacation. Data scientists (sometimes called data analysts) are experts at organizing and analyzing large sets of data (often called "big data"). By doing this, data scientists make conclusions that help other people or companies. For example, data scientists could help a video game company make a more profitable video game based on players' online behaviors, or help a travel agency figure out what destinations they should make vacation packages for.
Key Requirements Analytical skills, mathematical problem-solving abilities, good communication skills, ability to explain mathematical data in everyday language, attention to detail
Minimum Degree Bachelor's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Biology, physics, geometry, algebra II, pre-calculus, calculus, English; if available: computer science, statistics
Median Salary
Data Scientist
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
Min Wage
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Average (7% to 13%)
  • Find out what Hioronori Tomobe does as a data scientist at Mobage (a platform for mobile video games) by watching this video.
  • Read this article to find out how Noelle Sio decided to be a data scientist and what she does as a lead member of the EMC Greenplum Data Science Dream Team.
  • Find out what a data scientist working for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) does by reading this interview with Cameron.
Related Occupations

Training, Other Qualifications

To become a data scientist, a person usually starts out with a bachelor's degree in one of many possible fields, and then specializes as a data scientist through experience and/or additional degrees. While a bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement, many companies prefer or require data scientists who have more advanced degrees, specifically a master's degree or a PhD. Skilled workers who keep up-to-date with the latest technology usually have the best opportunities.

Education and Training

Data scientists must have at least a bachelor's degree with a major that is typically in one of the following areas or a related area: computer science, mathematics (e.g., applied math, data analytics, or statistics), physics, or biology (e.g., genetics). Some data scientists major in economics or behavioral sciences (e.g., psychology or sociology) instead, depending on the type of data they deal with.

In addition to having a relevant bachelor's degree, many employers also want a data scientist who has a master's degree or a PhD in a relevant field, or an equivalent number of years of experience. For example, an employer may look for a data scientist with a master's degree or a PhD in a field related to statistics or data-based research, or a data scientist with a bachelor's degree and 3-5 years of professional work experience in a related area. (Professional work experience can also be gained by doing an internship with a company.)

The type of educational background a data scientist has depends on what type of data they want to analyze in their career. For example, if a data scientist wants to work with a company that develops video games to try to improve the gaming experience, it may help if they have a degree in psychology, sociology, and/or computer science. Alternatively, if a data scientist wants to work with a healthcare provider to analyze what type of healthcare coverage should be made available to their clients, a background in a biology- and/or economics-related field may be more appropriate.

No matter what specific degree(s) a data scientist has, it is also important to have an educational background that includes statistics (and preferably other mathematics courses) and computer experience. Specifically, to organize and analyze large sets of data and entire databases, experience with using relevant computer programs and having some basic computer programming skills is highly desirable.

Other Qualifications

A data scientist needs to think logically, pay close attention to detail, be a problem-solver, and enjoy working with numbers and data. Being a data scientist calls for patience, persistence, and the ability to perform exacting analytical work. At the same time, a data scientist must be able to see the "bigger picture" and draw large-scale conclusions from looking at lots of small pieces of data.

Because data scientists often must show their data-based results to other people in a company or to clients, data scientists must be able to communicate well (both verbally and in writing) with non-technical personnel. Business skills are also important, especially for those wishing to be involved on the commerce side of operations.

Nature of the Work

Data scientists, who are also sometimes called data analysts, are experts at organizing, analyzing, and drawing conclusions from large sets of data. They do this by using computer programs and applying their knowledge of mathematics and algorithms (which are step-by-step procedures used for making a calculation).

In this video, Chevron Data Scientist Alena Crivello describes her use of analytics to find solutions to complex problems.

The conclusions that data scientists come to from analyzing the data help other people and companies improve their product (such as a vacation package) or solve a problem (such as fixing gameplay in a video game). Depending on the exact field that the data scientist is working in, the data scientist may also need to apply their knowledge of computer science, physics, biology, economics, or a behavioral science to do their job.

When an employer turns to a data scientist for help, they typically have a specific goal in mind or a question they want answered. For example, a healthcare provider may want to know what type of healthcare coverage should be offered to their clients, and what costs are reasonable for covering different medical procedures and medications. To figure this out, a data scientist will use computer programs to go through databases of relevant information. During this process, the data scientist might develop an algorithm (or even their own computer program) to do some of the work for them automatically so they do not have to go through all of the data manually.

Once the data scientist has drawn some large-scale conclusions based on the data they sorted and analyzed, they need a way to easily present their results to other people. Because of this, some data scientists need to be able to use computer programs that make visualizations (i.e., detailed graphs) based on data. Data scientists may also need to prepare written reports and presentations to groups of people (such as co-workers, collaborators, and potential clients), many of whom are non-technical personnel, so it is important for data scientists to be able to communicate well.

Overall, the conclusions that the data scientists come to based on analyzing all of the data goes into helping a company make a better product or offer better services.

Work Environment

Data scientists spend the majority of their time in front of a computer, and work in clean, comfortable offices. Most data scientists work about 40 hours per week, but sometimes they may work more hours to meet deadlines.

Some data scientists travel to provide advice on projects, supervise and set up surveys, or gather statistical data. While email and teleconferencing are making it easier for data scientists to work with clients in different locations, there still are situations that require the data scientist to be present, such as during certain meetings or while gathering data.

Like other workers who spend long periods of time in front of a computer typing at a keyboard, data scientists are susceptible to eye strain, back discomfort, and hand and wrist problems, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

On the Job

  • Make mathematical models to predict outcomes.
  • Report results of statistical analyses, including information in the form of graphs, charts, and tables.
  • Identify relationships and trends in data, as well as any factors that could affect the results of the data.
  • Make computer-based tools for others to use so that they can better use data in their jobs.
  • Debug sets of data.
  • Present findings in front of groups of people.
  • Recommend what actions to take based on the analyses of data sets.
  • Create, maintain, and add to a database.
  • Work with clients and others who want to use data, such as journalists and stockholders.
  • Prepare written reports based on data analyses.
  • Make computer programs, algorithms, and mathematical equations to sort and analyze large data sets.
  • Explain complex data sets to people with non-technical backgrounds.
  • Read and write in computer programming/scripting languages (such as Python, Ruby, and JavaScript).
  • Use relevant computer programs to analyze data sets and perform statistical analyses (such as R, MATLAB, SAS, and Python).
  • Use database software programs, programming languages, and platforms to manage large datasets (such as SQL, HaDoop, Hive, and MapReduce).
  • Use computer programs to make visualizations of data (such as Tableau, R, D3, and Microsoft Excel).
  • Know how to use computers that run different operating systems (e.g., Unix and Windows).
  • Teach others how to use computer programs to analyze data sets.

Companies That Hire Data Scientists

Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...

Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
In a survey conducted from 2007 to 2010, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that about 49% of people in the United States had taken at least one prescription drug during the past month, and about 22% of people had taken three or more prescription drugs. People are prescribed drugs all the time, but prescriptions can be dangerous because people can have different responses to drugs. These responses largely have to do with genetic mutations. Why are some genetic… Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Remember going to the doctor and getting vaccine shots? It is no fun getting poked with a needle, but fortunately, a vaccine gives you protection against a serious illness for years to come. But what about the flu vaccine? How come there is a new one every year? This science fair project will show you why. Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Would it surprise you to learn that no one knows the exact age of the universe? Astronomers have estimates, and as they gather increasingly precise data and measurements, they continue to refine those estimates to come up with more accurate estimates. In this project, you can look at data about stars in dense groups called globular clusters and come up with your own estimate for the minimum age of the universe. How closely will your estimate match those of other astronomers? Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever wondered what causes the tides in Earth's oceans? In this astronomy project, you will discover the answer for yourself! You will investigate how the Sun and Moon control tides in Earth's oceans. Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Scientists recently found that some small drugs can stop infection by the deadly Ebola virus in its tracks. Lab researchers found that these drugs bind to a protein that the Ebola virus uses to enter our cells, and this is how infection is prevented. However, this also means that the bound protein no longer functions in our cells. How might these drugs accidentally disrupt important biological processes in our bodies? What other proteins might these drugs bind to? In this science project,… Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Social media is all the buzz on the internet. What can we do with all the information generated by millions of people posting, tweeting, taking pictures, and chatting? How do companies convert it into profit? While you do not have the tools to analyze data from millions of social media posts by yourself, you will be able to analyze a scaled-down version. Follow the instructions in this project to try your hand at extracting data from a couple of social media sites and use it to create… Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
We've all heard that hurricanes draw their immense power from warm ocean waters. Of course, many factors contribute to the formation and growth of a hurricane, but can we expect to find that the warmer the water, the stronger the hurricane will be? This project shows you how to use online data archives to investigate this question. Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Extinct might be a word you associate with animals that lived long ago, like the dinosaurs, but did you know that over 18,000 species are classified as "threatened" (susceptible to extinction) today? Scientists involved in wildlife conservation have a tough job; they are in charge of determining what needs to be done to prevent a species from becoming extinct. Habitat, food supply, and impacts of local human populations are just a few of the factors these scientists take into account. It is a… Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Did you ever wonder about your ancient ancestors? Who they were? Where they came from? In this science project, you will investigate the secrets of your distant past as revealed by your DNA. In order to obtain a sample for DNA analysis, you will scrape a soft swab inside your mouth to collect cheek cells. The cheek cell sample will be sent to a lab for processing, and the results of the analysis will be sent to you. Based on the genetic markers in your DNA, the ancient clan that your… Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is a space telescope for NASA's Explorers program, designed to search for exoplanets using the transit method in an area 400 times larger than that covered by the Kepler mission. It was launched on April 18, 2018 atop a Falcon 9 rocket. During its two-year primary mission, it was expected to find more than 20,000 transiting exoplanets, compared to about 3,800 exoplanets known when it launched. The first light image from TESS was taken on August… Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
There is a lot of energy that can be harvested from moving water. Energy can be extracted from water rushing over a waterfall and from the regular patterns of the ocean's tides. The energy that propels waves forward in the oceans can also be extracted and used. But can wave energy power plants be built anywhere there is water? In this energy science fair project, you will use ocean buoy data and mathematics to determine which locations along the coasts of the United States can sustain a wave… Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
The Milky Way is the edgewise view of our home galaxy, a disk made up of billions of stars. The Sun resides on one of the spiral arms of the disk, 30,000 light-years from the thick hub of the galaxy. The actual center, with a black hole 3-4 million times the Sun's mass, is hidden by dust clouds in space. In this astronomy science fair project, you will use astronomical data to locate the center of this galaxy. Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever wondered how playing in a certain stadium affects how well the athletes perform? Major League Baseball (MLB) is played in ballparks that have their own individual quirks when it comes to the exact layout of the field. How an individual ballpark affects player performance, which is known as ballpark effects, is heavily investigated in the field of baseball. To name just a few parks and their different traits, Fenway Park (the long-time home ballpark for the Boston Red Sox in… Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Did you know that in addition to the Sun and planets, our solar system is filled with millions of asteroids, which are chunks of rock left over from the early days of its formation, or from collisions between larger objects like planets? Agencies like NASA track asteroids, not only because they might pose a threat to humanity by colliding with Earth, but because they can provide us with information about the history of our solar system, and even be useful for mining raw materials in space! In… Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
The Kepler space telescope is a retired space telescope launched by NASA to discover Earth-size planets orbiting other stars. Named after astronomer Johannes Kepler, the spacecraft was launched on March 7, 2009, into an Earth-trailing heliocentric orbit. The principal investigator was William J. Borucki. After nine years of operation, the telescope's reaction control system fuel was depleted, and NASA announced its retirement on October 30, 2018. Designed to survey a portion of Earth's… Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Believe it or not, scientists were recently able to recover tissue from a 68-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex fossil! Not only were they able to purify non-mineralized tissue, but they also succeeded in obtaining partial sequence information for protein molecules in the T. rex tissue. In this genomics science fair project, you will use the T. rex's protein sequence to search sequence databases for the its closest living relatives. Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Do you live in an area where the weather changes a lot from season to season throughout the year? Or do you live in a place where the weather stays pretty much the same all year long? How dynamic is the weather, and how does it compare to climate? In this experiment you can use the Internet to conduct your own investigation about how climate and weather in your local area change over time. Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
When an earthquake happens, how are scientists able to determine the original location of the quake? In this project, you'll use archived data from a network of seismometers to find out for yourself. You'll create your own seismograms from the comfort of your own computer with an easy-to-use webpage interface. Then you'll analyze your seismograms to determine the distance of the quake from each seismometer station. By mapping your analyzed data, you will be able to determine the location of the… Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Harmful algal blooms occur when algae, which form the base of the ocean food web, grow in massive numbers and produce toxic or harmful effects on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and birds. In this project you will learn how to use archived data from continuous monitoring stations on the Chesapeake Bay to study how water quality measurements (dissolved oxygen (DO), salinity, temperature, pH, turbidity, and total chlorophyll) change before, during, and after harmful algal blooms. Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Big data is one of the most promising and hyped trends in technology and business today. Big data refers to data-analysis jobs that are too large and complex to be analyzed by applications that are traditionally used. Big data sets hold valuable information. Many publicly available data sets have the potential to improve our everyday lives by giving us insight into the things we care about. How well-equipped are we to extract information from the data? Visualizations and aggregations (or… Read more

Ask Questions

Do you have a specific question about a career as a Data Scientist that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.

Additional Information


Free science fair projects.