Data scientists work on the cutting edge of innovative technology. In a world where data-driven decisions have become the norm, data science delivers the insight needed to make those decisions.

A career in science is also one of the fastest growing professions in the United States and around the world. Federal projections estimate 19% growth in the field by 2026, with more than 33,000 people working in the U.S. alone.

And even that won’t come close to filling all the positions available. Looking at the overall field for data analytics in a 2016 report, McKinsey Global Institute estimates that 40 percent of business executives surveyed reported difficulty finding suitable candidates in analytics departments.

Data scientists are needed in every industry, from retail to manufacturing. Government agencies, nonprofit organizations and even some school systems also hire data scientists.

But why is it worthwhile to earn a Master of Science in Data Science, such as the one offered by Merrimack College? There are many reasons.

The Role of Data Scientists & Data Analysts

Many people get confused about the term “data scientist” and exactly how the position fits into the overall data analytics field. That’s understandable, especially for those who are just looking to launch a career in data science.

Here’s a quick overview of two job titles that often get mixed together: data analyst and data scientist.

Data Analyst. This is typically an entry-level position in the analytics field. A data analyst works under the direction of more experienced analysts or data scientists. They require expert-level skills in programming, statistical modeling, machine learning and data visualization. They also need skills at presenting data findings that are understandable to those without expert-level technical skills. A bachelor’s degree can open the door to a position in this field.

Data Scientist. In this position, you dive deeper into larger datasets and more complex issues using advanced data analysis tools. Data scientists, unlike most analysts, write algorithms for machine learning models that capture data. Often working on their own, they help solve challenging open-ended issues. They also use multiple data sources, finding previously unknown connections between datasets.

Why An Advanced Degree Matters for a Career in Data Science

To attain the top positions in data science, most employers want data scientists to have earned a master’s degree. They can focus on many different concentrations, including applied mathematics and even physics.

Only federal government agencies will consider someone for a data science job without a master’s degree, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Lack of data is not the issue with most organizations. What they want are people who can find ways to help make sound strategic decisions based on that data.

A master’s degree program that focuses on practical applications of data science in the business world can make a major difference. For example, the Master of Science in Data Science from Merrimack College involves a curriculum designed by both the engineering and business departments.

Created by an industry advisory council, the program provides students with the technical skills they need for a career in data science. Students also develop business skills needed to leverage data analysis into actionable information business leaders can use to drive strategy.

That’s one example of how a well-designed master’s degree program can bolster you career in data science. You’ll need a master’s degree to succeed in this career in most situations – search for a program that offers you the best chance to excel in the real business world.