Do Data Scientists Work in Government?

Do Data Scientists Work in Government?

Data scientists leverage their understanding of mathematics, statistics, and applied computer science to guide decision-makers in private companies as well as government institutions. In fact, there are numerous positions and career paths available to data science experts who want to work with federal, state, or local authorities.

While some of these roles only demand an understanding of the basic principles and technology of the profession, there are also many jobs that involve applying data science to a specific field.

If you think about it, governments are prime candidates for hiring data scientists. Governments big and small collect vast amounts of data from utility usage rates to census information to intelligence used for national security.

In each of these instances, data scientists can harness the power of their field to help governments make sense of all their data to inform their decision-making processes.

If you’re interested in working as a data scientist for a government agency, reference the types of roles you might fulfill below.

Mathematics and Computer Science Roles

Almost every major local and federal government agency gathers data and uses it to guide its decisions, initiatives, and policies. There is demand for both entry-level and experienced professionals in city, county, state, and national institutions.

Data scientists with technical proficiency in computer science, statistical analysis, and mathematics can find numerous opportunities at all levels of government. People filling these roles typically work to support a larger program or department alongside other data specialists and a diverse team of professionals.

For example, a data scientist that specializes in computer science might help a government agency identify ways to streamline services to citizens by using artificial intelligence. As another example, a data scientist with a math or statistics specialization might consult with a government health agency to develop a tool that allows for tracking the spread of a particular disease.

Of course, these are just a few examples of what a specialization in math or computer science can get you in terms of working for the government. Because data science is such a big business, there are dozens and dozens of different career paths you might take with a role in data science, math, and computer science.

Health and Social Science Analytics

Health and Social Science Analytics

Data scientists with experience or interest in public health policy and health informatics can also find plenty of opportunities to explore their specialization.

As one of the most data-driven fields, healthcare has been a leading industry in its adoption of applied data science. This is particularly true for government agencies responsible for public health, as they gather and utilize vast amounts of data to create policies and programs that have a direct impact on public health.

Predictive modeling is also a valuable skill for emergency management departments tasked with preventing and planning for disease outbreaks. These types of tools can be used by various agencies, from a city government’s disaster response team to behemoth federal agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to maximize the government’s ability to respond to the needs of citizens in the face of disaster.

Likewise, government agencies can utilize the expertise of data scientists to improve the collection and processing of data, as well as the analysis of big data.

For example, government programs that provide social services like child care can be improved by using data analytics to determine the efficacy of those programs. Data scientists might be able to identify barriers to services being provided to target communities, wasteful spending, or perhaps even determine different services that are a greater priority for certain populations based on analyzing data that is collected from populations in need.

Of course, data science can be used to improve diagnosis and care in treatment settings in federally-run hospitals like those in the Department of Veterans Affairs system.

For example, data scientists might use machine learning to improve medical imaging techniques, Internet of Things (IoT) tools to improve the process of monitoring patients’ health, or using predictive modeling to determine a course of action for treating a patient’s condition.

Again, these are but a few examples of how data science can have a positive impact on the work of governments to improve health and social services for citizens. Just like with the application of mathematics and computer science tools in data science, there are many more ways that governments can utilize the talents of data scientists in the healthcare space.

Management and Administrative Positions

Since data science is a relatively new and niche profession, an opportunity for advancement in government carers may require relocation. There is typically more room for growth and promotion in larger federal institutions compared to city or state government agencies. 

However, professionals who want to expand their careers can often find opportunities to continue their careers as government employees. The skills and experience gained in a government job can also be invaluable when working as a consultant or in private industry in the future.

For example, if you work for a few years as a data scientist in the field of business, you can use that experience to get a government job where taking part in risk management, predictive analytics, and creating algorithms can improve government programs. 

If you think about it, data science in the business field (or any field, really) is all about discerning knowledge, processing lots of data quickly, and making sound data-driven decisions. These valuable skills can be applied in government programs in finance, healthcare, criminal justice, defense, and many others.

Law Enforcement Jobs

Law Enforcement Jobs

Law enforcement is a prime candidate for data science because data science tools can help investigators sift through incredible amounts of data in a much shorter time.

A prime example of this is when law enforcement agencies are searching for a particular vehicle. They can do so by searching for a vehicle’s license plate number in vast databases. Finding the plate number will tell investigators a lot of information about the vehicle’s owner, including their name and address. This, in turn, can help law enforcement positively ID a suspect or a victim of a crime.

Likewise, law enforcement can rely on data science tools to turn data into intelligence upon which they can act. A good example of this is using data science to mine social media posts for references of a crime, like an extremist group using social media to plan an attack.

Not only can law enforcement use data science tools to pick up on “chatter” like this, but they can also use digital information like this to assist in developing timelines of crimes, track movements of suspects, and find further evidence that links suspects to crime.

Another example of the application of data science in law enforcement is crime mapping. This is done by using big data to examine past crimes, their types, their locations and dates, and so forth. By mining that kind of data, law enforcement agencies can create maps of high-crime areas and use that information to target their patrols in an effort to curb crime in those areas.

Careers in Defense

Defense is big business, particularly for federal agencies like the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security.

Not only do agencies like this collect incredible amounts of data that need to be analyzed, stored, and acted upon, but they also rely on data science tools that help improve their ability to protect the homeland.

For example, machine learning and artificial intelligence can be used by defense workers to do anything from mapping out the best route for troops to get to a target to improve the digital defense systems against cyberattacks on government computer networks.

Additionally, real-time analytics can be used to track troops in the field or monitor high-value targets. Predictive analytics can help prevent possible threats. Algorithms can also be used to calculate potential threats against the homeland and identify possible damage that might result from an event like a terrorist attack.

Whether it’s modeling, statistical analyses, combat simulation, improving battlefield healthcare, or designing more accurate weapons, data science certainly can play a very important role in a government’s ability to defend itself from threats.

Preparing for a Government Career in Data Science

Preparing for a Government Career in Data Science

Many data scientists enter the profession with a bachelor’s degree, which is acceptable for applying to many government positions.

There are a variety of bachelor’s degrees you might pursue, including, but not limited to:

  • Data science
  • Computer science
  • Mathematics
  • Statistics
  • Data analytics
  • Applied data science
  • Healthcare data analytics

Whatever type of bachelor’s degree you pursue, you can expect to spend about four years completing the degree. They usually require about 120 semester hours or 180 quarter hours of studies to complete. 

Some of the courses you take in an undergraduate degree program are general classes, like science and math, but many of the classes you take will be in your major area. These courses run the gamut from basic, introductory courses to much more detailed and specialized studies in data science.

Bear in mind that a bachelor’s degree might be good enough for an entry-level or mid-level government job, but you might need additional schooling for other government jobs.

For example, you might consider pursuing a master’s degree in data science or a related field in order to have more avenues for employment with government agencies.

Master’s degrees in data science are plentiful both on-campus and online. They tend to vary somewhat in terms of their requirements, though – some master’s degrees in this field can be completed in about a year while others might take two or three years.

Of course, the coursework you undertake will depend largely on the type of master’s degree you pursue. If, for example, your master’s degree is in statistics and data science, you’ll have a healthy load of statistics courses. But if your master’s program is in artificial intelligence, you’ll spend much of your time learning how to develop and use AI.

While a master’s degree isn’t always required, it can help you in your job search. With the advanced knowledge and skills you gain in a master’s program, you will immediately stand out from other job applicants that only have a bachelor’s degree.

It isn’t just your degree that government agencies will examine when you apply for data science jobs, though. Some agencies also require a minimum grade point average (GPA) as well as demonstrated soft skills, like leadership and the ability to work as part of a team. You might be required to have taken certain courses, have a degree from an accredited institution, and you might need to pass a background check as well.

Likewise, employment with some government agencies might be contingent upon you having some measure of job experience. So, rather than being eligible to apply for a job straight out of college, some government positions might require applicants to have 2-3 years of relevant work experience or more, depending on the particular position.

If you think you might be interested in pursuing a government career in data science, it’s prudent to explore the possibility of an internship with a government agency during your undergraduate studies.

In many cases, you can find short-term internships during the summer that allow you to experience what a government data science job is like. Getting that kind of experience while you’re an undergraduate can prove to be enormously valuable for planning your next steps both educationally and professionally.

Data Science is a Good Career Choice

Data scientists are experts in a cutting-edge and evolving field that has already made a tangible impact on virtually every major industry. As the tools to collect and store data improve, companies and government institutions alike are grappling with how to make use of this new resource.

As a result, data scientists are needed for both government and private work, so qualified professionals are likely to enjoy a wide selection of job opportunities in the years ahead. Additionally, colleges and universities are expanding their offerings of data science-related degree programs at the undergraduate and graduate level, so there is a wealth of choice when it comes to which school you decide to pursue your studies.

With solid job growth, a wide range of job options, and the opportunity to make a positive impact on other people’s lives, data science jobs in government agencies are a great choice for a well-paying, satisfying career.

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