Data science is a highly diverse discipline. It combines elements of many different areas, from statistics to mathematics to computer science.
Not only is data science a diverse field, but it is also relatively new. Nonetheless, data science is being widely adopted in scientific, business, commercial, and medical applications, among many others.
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The specific subjects and focus of an undergraduate degree depend on individual programs and schools. In most cases, students take advanced classes that cover various aspects of computer modeling and algorithms as well as math and statistical analysis.
Due to the technical and specific nature of a data science major, choosing a minor presents an opportunity for students to expand their curriculum into other areas of interest or build on their future resumes with additional skills.
This being the case, choosing a minor is a very important step as you work towards your degree in data science.
The following list includes many different options you might pursue as a good minor to complement your data science major.
Networking and Information Systems
While some data scientists work directly with statistics and information, many fill administrative roles supervising database management and utilization. A firm understanding of computer systems and networks is a strong skill for almost any job applicant in this industry. These skills also open up additional professional opportunities for those interested in exploring the boundaries of their career and skillset.
Pursuing a minor in this field typically requires 15-18 semester credit hours of work. This minor is often offered by the computer science department. However, in some cases, you might find this minor offered by other departments, like business administration.
Regardless, you can expect to learn the ins and outs of computer networking and the various types of computer information systems. This might include coursework in:
- Networking and data communications systems
- Information security
- Computer forensics
- Database analytics
- Database management
- Web development
Depending on which department offers this minor, you might also need to take business courses to fulfill the minor requirements.
For example, at schools in which this minor is offered in the business department, you might be required to take courses in accounting, accounting systems, or fraud examination.
Needless to say, this minor can prove to be highly beneficial to you if you intend to work in a business environment. Paired with a major in data science, you’ll have a lot of highly desirable skills that will make you a sought-after employee.
Computer Science and Coding
Computer science is already an integral part of most data science degrees, but it’s difficult for students to get too much education in this area. This is because a data science major covers so many different types of courses, there simply isn’t time within the major to take a large number of computer science classes.
But with a minor in this area, you can get those classes under your belt and equip yourself with knowledge and skills that can help you advance your studies and enable you to establish a long-lasting career.
Machine learning is one of the popular careers within the field of data science. Demand has been high for these professionals and it makes sense that demand will continue to be strong given the prevalence of machine learning in today’s world. Machine learning has applications throughout the field, so all data science professionals and students should be aware of its future potential.
Additional coursework for a computer science and coding minor might include:
- Probability and statistics
- System programming
- Computer architecture
- Discrete structures
- Data structures
Of course, the specific courses that are required for a minor in this field will likely vary from one school to the next. Additionally, the number of credits required to complete the minor might vary. For example, at one school, 15 credits might be required for completion, but at another school, it might be 18 or 21-semester credits.
Unsurprisingly, information technology is a great minor option when you major in data science.
By minoring in information technology, you’ll gain the needed knowledge and skills to understand how to collect, store, analyze, disseminate, and protect digital data.
But information technology is much broader than that. You might study artificial intelligence and how it can be used to mine data. You might explore topics related to information security and how to design security systems that keep data safe. You might also learn about topics related to health information technology and develop skills needed to manage the wealth of information in electronic health records.
Usually, information technology minors require coursework in:
- Database architecture
- Database management
- Programming with C
- Operating systems
- Human-computer interaction
- Information assurance
While these are common courses for this minor, you will likely be able to take a course or two of your choosing to fulfill elective components. It’s a good idea to take electives in an area that is applicable to the environment in which you wish to work.
So, for example, if you want to pursue a career as a data scientist, you might choose an elective related to research, information security, or even app development, as these skills could help you plan, design, and execute research in data science.
Communications and Public Speaking
A minor in public speaking or business communications may not harmonize with the technical nature of a data science degree, but they do provide key professional skills.
Professionals in the industry typically work in collaboration with various team members, including those with business, marketing, and computer science backgrounds. This means they should be comfortable working in different types of situations and need the ability to communicate clearly despite differing perspectives and levels of understanding.
In many cases, you can expect to take courses related to:
- Communication, technology, and society
- Business and professional communication
- Human communication theory
- Interpersonal communication
- Organizational communication
- Cross-cultural communication
- Nonverbal communication
Not only would a minor in communications or public speaking enable you to work better as a member of a team, but it would also give you the skills you need to be more articulate in your communications.
For example, having a good command of public speaking skills could help you become a team leader – the person that presents findings to management, investors, or other stakeholders. Such a position would not be easy – data science can be extremely technical, so you’d have to learn how to disseminate highly technical information to laypersons. A minor in communications or public speaking can help you do that.
Additionally, these courses can help you develop other communication skills. Being an effective listener is every bit as important as being an effective speaker. By developing active listening skills, you’ll have the ability to maintain interesting, engaging, and productive conversations with people, both professionally and personally.
Having effective written communication skills is also needed for people that work in data science. Again, you must be able to summarize highly technical information and do so for people that may not have training in data science. Though it might sound easy, turning complex data into an easy-to-read and understandable written document takes a lot of skill and practice.
There is something to be said for advancing your communication skills for a place in the modern workforce as well.
Not only should you be able to communicate effectively verbally and in person, but you should also possess the skills needed to communicate effectively via text, video conferences, and emails, and do so with people from all sorts of backgrounds. The chances that you will need to work with or communicate with someone that comes from a different social, religious, or cultural background is high, so understanding how to speak, listen, and write to people will be a key to your success in the data science field.
Business and Accounting
Data scientists can find job opportunities at all kinds of organizations, ranging from government agencies to corporations and nonprofits. Students who are interested in pushing their career towards business or finance should strongly consider a minor in business management or accounting.
These skills not only give professionals a boost when it comes to a business career, but they also prepare them to work alongside corporate executives in a fast-paced, demanding environment. Accounting can be a particularly useful minor for those who plan to apply their data science skills in the investment or money management realms.
In a business minor, you can expect to take courses in:
- Human resources
- Data analytics
- International business
And in an accounting minor, you might be required to take courses in:
- Banking services
In fact, many colleges and universities offer specific minors in many of the areas listed in the bullets above. So, if you are interested in a data science career in the banking industry, you could minor in banking services. As another example, if your goal is to work in data analytics, you could add that minor to your data science major.
Math and Statistics
As noted earlier with the computer science and coding minor, math and statistics are an integral part of data science. So the question might be, why minor in something that is already such a central part of your major?
It’s simple – you’ll build a deeper understanding of mathematical and statistical concepts that you can use to further your major studies (and equip yourself better for your future career, too).
In a math minor, you can usually select courses from a wide range of disciplines. For example, you might take classes in:
- Number theory
Likewise, you might be able to choose math courses that have a specific application, like business math.
In statistics, you can expect to take courses in:
- Statistical inference
- Integral calculus
- Applied statistics
Whether you minor in math, statistics, or both, you will develop critical skills that will help you as a future data scientist. You’ll learn how to solve problems, analyze information, and use logical reasoning. You can use these skills in either applied mathematics or statistics, or you can use them in theoretical mathematics or statistics as well.
Whichever direction you decide to go, the quantitative skills you acquire in a math or statistics major will go a long way in helping you become a better data scientist.
Having a Minor is Important – But Don’t Let It Distract You
As we’ve discussed, having a minor to go with your data science major will help you become a more well-rounded student and a more skilled employee in the future. With the right minor, you will be a more attractive employee and could very well get a job over another candidate because of the fact that you have a minor.
However, while having a minor is important, it isn’t the primary goal of your undergraduate studies. Your focus should be on data science and successfully completing your degree. After all, having a minor won’t do you much good if you haven’t been able to complete your major!
The solution is to find a way to balance your studies between your major and your minor. This can be difficult, but by being organized, planning your semesters well, and having dedicated study time, you can find success in your major and your minor.
If you find that it’s just too much to handle to have a minor, it’s important to take action so you can find success in school. Perhaps you move to ¾ time instead of full-time so you don’t have quite as heavy of a class load. Maybe you take intersession courses or a summer class to help ease the burden of having too many classes in the fall or spring. It might even mean dropping your minor in favor of focusing completely on your major. Ultimately, you need to do what is best for you and your comfort level in school.
If you decide to choose a minor, any of those listed here will be a great option for you. Before diving in and selecting a minor, be sure you do more research. Consider what your educational and career goals are. Think about the knowledge and skills you will need for your career. After you’ve done all that, select a minor that meets your criteria and that will help you realize your future goals.
By Data Science Degree Programs Staff
Updated June 2021