Coursera and grad school?
December 9, 2021 10:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm thinking about going back to grad school for data science after working adjacent to data scientists for 5 years. I need to get my statistics and computer science up to speed beforehand. Would an online course system like Coursera work?

Basically, this is 70% to make sure I don't fail out of the grad program, and 30% to look good. I absolutely have to get some statistics knowledge, for example, but my grades from undergrad were eh and it would be nice if this also moved the needle at all on "she can do super well in classes."

Other points:
-CS undergrad degree but only with a 3.2 or so. Full GPA is close to a 3.5 with my high grades in other classes
-Excel at my technical writing job that's on the data side, no modeling but lots of tech concepts
-I did awesome on the SAT and expect to do well on the GRE
-Feel that I will do much better in grad school as an adult student finally on antidepressants (ha.)

So basically, will Coursera help my application? Is it worth it to find online classes direct through a college? Or is the boost I'd get from getting a few good grades neglible anyway?

posted by clarinet to Education (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Note: because it might not be clear, I think Coursera is perfectly rigorous for getting me up to speed, it's just whether it's worth it to spend the money to get up to speed somewhere the admissions offices might trust more?
posted by clarinet at 10:31 PM on December 9, 2021

I don't think any admissions office would care about the difference between a few coursera classes and a few college classes. Having a relevant bachelor's is important, but your GPA should be fine unless you're applying somewhere super selective. Taking a few refresher courses is a good for all the reasons you mention but I don't think it matters where you do it

When I was applying to a prestigious grad school, my biggest problem by far was getting recommendations as I couldn't really track down my undergrad professors. But that was for a full academia position, my current online masters program didn't care about recommendations at all given my other credentials. So this differs a lot per school I think.
posted by JZig at 10:58 PM on December 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Data science master’s degree programs aren’t med school.

These kinds of professional masters programs are seen as a profit center for the university, and admissions standards are not high. Your undergrad plus professional experience will be plenty to get into most if not all of these programs.

If you want to brush up on stats, etc, that’s not a bad idea, but I agree it doesn’t really matter how you do it.

Not to question your plan, but with a CS degree you could probably get into data science without another degree, and grad school is expensive! None of the data scientists that I work with have an actual degree in data science. Have you considered having a conversation with your existing team about how you want to get more into the data science side of things from the technical writing side, and see where that goes?
posted by rockindata at 4:56 AM on December 10, 2021 [13 favorites]

Best answer: I can't imagine Coursera will have an appreciable effect on your grad school application, but what it might do is teach you everything you need to know to be a real world professional data scientist before you even get to grad school.
posted by grog at 7:42 AM on December 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Here are some offerings that might be helpful if you're into the life sciences:

HarvardX's Data Analysis for Life Sciences sequence (edX)
JHU's Genomic Data Science sequence (Coursera)
Data Analysis for the Life Sciences (pay what you wish ebook)

But I agree, from my very limited experience, that you should be fine with an actual CS degree.
posted by 8603 at 9:49 AM on December 10, 2021

Response by poster: Hahaha. Point taken. I feel like, since I have 0 statistics and 0 modeling besides a high school stats class, that I needed more "official schooling" if I ever wanted to actually move into using the modeling software at my company. But you're probably right about the classes being just as well, and I feel much better about applying to school if I decide to do so. I suppose other jobs would also be fine with the Coursera courses as a sub as long as I could prove I had a big project or two showing my skills. Which is like other CS jobs, and I'm used to that-I think the stats are just scaring me off.

Also: rockindata, that's an excellent idea, and maybe one I'll pursue. I always feel like there's a barrier to entry to getting into the modeling side of things but I might take Stat 101 and then see if I can collaborate with some folks once I have any basis at all :)

Thanks everyone!!
posted by clarinet at 10:41 AM on December 10, 2021

In my limited experience (faculty at a small college), many schools have not yet figured out how to handle credentials from Coursera and the like. You might want to contact the school you're interested in applying to, and find out if they even consider online courses/programs as a legitimate credential. I wouldn't necessarily count on it to make you an attractive candidate.

It would suck to pay Coursera, and then have to retake the same course in grad school at grad school tuition rates.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:04 AM on December 11, 2021

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