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Rice launches new graduate programs in psychological sciences and data science


By Shiyu Miao     2/25/21 9:59pm

Rice plans to launch a two-year professional master’s degree in industrial-organizational psychology and a 31-credit professional master’s degree in data science. Both programs will begin their classes in Fall 2021.

Industrial-organizational psychology program

Fred Oswald, the director of graduate studies, says the goal of the Master of Industrial-Organizational Psychology is to teach students how to build an effective workplace through the science of people at work and apply that to a wide range of real-world organizational problems and settings. 

“MIOP will thus enrich the intellectual and interpersonal diversity found within the Department of Psychological Sciences, which also includes human factors, cognitive psychology and health psychology as its core strengths,” Oswald said.

The new master’s program will complement the existing Ph.D. program in I/O psychology at Rice, which is recognized nationally, according to Oswald. 

Beth Buchanan, a senior at Hanszen, said at this point she is planning to attend a Ph.D. program in psychology next year and potentially enter academia in the future. Buchanan said in I/O psychology, master’s programs are generally geared towards industry, rather than academia.

“I think that master's programs do a great job of preparing their students to enter the workforce and still maintaining the rigor of research and academics, but in a more applied setting than a Ph.D. program would have,” Buchanan said.

The department plans to recruit only four to five new students a year. MIOP students will study issues in the workplace by learning related psychological factors on both scientific and practical levels, such as personnel selection, training, diversity and inclusion. 

Elliot Stahr, a senior at Jones College majoring in psychology, said he is convinced that the launch of MIOP will make people reflect more on their work environments during an ongoing pandemic.

“I think everybody, not just I/O researchers, [is] considering what is an optimal workplace even more than they may have before since everything has been shaken up recently,” Stahr said. “And obviously, organizations are recognizing the importance of building a diverse workforce, creating a hospitable work environment, and making their employees feel like work is enjoyable.”

Oswald, who will teach a course focusing on developing and statistically evaluating employment tests used in organizations, said he believes that MIOP will be a very popular program, as industrial psychologists have been No. 3 in U.S. News and World Report's Best Science Jobs of 2021. Oswald said he is especially proud of the teaching quality of MIOP.

“Three of our six faculty involved in MIOP (Eden King, Fred Oswald, Eduardo Salas) have been presidents of the 10,000+ member Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, said Oswald. “All six faculty conduct cutting-edge organizational research that, collectively, would be challenging to find in any similar master's program.”

Data science program

Rice is also offering a new master’s degree in data science through the George R. Brown School of Engineering, and managed by the department of computer science. Risa Myers, an assistant teaching professor in the department of computer science, said Rice has observed increased interest in data science through enrollment in the courses offered at Rice and in the types of employment students seek after graduation.

“This program was created to address the growing interest and demand for such a program both in Houston, through the in-person option, and more broadly through the online program,” Myers said. “A master of data science degree is of interest and value to both employers and students.”

Shryans Goyal, an academic fellow in computer science, said he believes this is a great opportunity for students who are looking for jobs in data science.

“This program seems to be very career-oriented,” Goyal, a Will Rice College senior, said. “There's going to be networking opportunities through [the Data to Knowledge Lab] as well as with professors who have already worked in industry. Data Science is a growing field and I'm sure the program will help those who are enrolled find great jobs at great places.”

The program’s curriculum will cover core courses of data science, with areas like computer programming, data virtualization and machine learning. Christopher Jermaine, the interim chair of the department of computer science and program director of the data science initiative, said that a new specialization in business analytics is being piloted with Jones School of Business.

According to Jermaine, with both a face-to-face and an online option, the former helps traditional students who want to come to campus, while the latter will help those who may not be able to come in person to Rice. Jermaine said the curriculum is exactly the same, but students can take up to nine hours credit hours in the other format if they want.

“For example, you could have somebody in the Pacific Northwest, who decides that they want to receive the Master of Data Science from Rice,” Jermaine said. “And so maybe they're doing this while they're still working. And so they can do this over a period of a year and a half, or two years. But then let's say for the last semester, they want to come to campus to take the capstone. So they can do this, because the curriculums are the same. You can switch back and forth, up to nine credit hours.”

Prashanth Pai, head academic fellow of Brown College, said he thinks this new program will help students and professionals to integrate data science into their respective fields and interests. Pai said he helped create and teach a new data science course, COMP 614, for the online Master of Computer Science program last semester.

“Through this [teaching assistant] experience, I met a lot of different graduate students from diverse professional backgrounds,” Pai, a junior, said. “I could tell that most of the students really enjoyed learning about data science, so I'm really glad this new Master of Data Science program will allow similar students to explore that passion.”

Pai said he believes the advance of data science will help transform other industries in the future.

“With the growth of technology over the past few decades, almost every field faces a problem where there is too much data and not enough stories,” Pai said. “Advanced knowledge in data science will help students piece together data from their respective fields to translate numbers into stories. This will revolutionize how we look at everything, from history and politics to medicine and engineering.”

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