Merging Big Data and Liberal Arts for Big Opportunities

The need to interpret the complex nuances of data brings opportunities for liberal arts majors to demonstrate their value in a variety of fields.

7,392 – that’s how many unique words rapper Aesop Rock used in his first 35,000 lyrics.

Matt Daniels published in The Pudding, a journal of visual essays, his analysis of the vocabularies of 85 hip-hop artists against literary figures William Shakespeare and Herman Melville. Using token analysis, Daniels compared artists like Drake, Jay-Z, the Wu-Tang Clan and Outkast, discovering that many hip-hop artists have more extensive vocabularies than the Bard or the author of “Moby-Dick.”

This kind of data may be surprising to some, and showed a unique pattern as well as insight into language that might not otherwise be seen.

When you think of data analysis, the above study probably isn’t what comes to mind. Most types of data analysis seem to center around the computer information systems and information technology sectors. However, many fields utilize different types of data for research and to implement better business practices, which would be complemented greatly by a degree in business analytics.

Approaching Big Data and analytics through a liberal arts viewpoint could be extremely beneficial in today’s society. As W. Michael Donovan points out in a post for KOA Labs, a startup organization in Cambridge, Mass., the greatest innovations of the past few centuries have come from people who were approaching a problem with a wide lens instead of a narrow focus, and because of that, a liberal arts education is as valuable as ever.

“If allowed to fail, if students are not introduced to worlds beyond their technical or narrow majors, if society does not reap the benefits of thoughtful and deep reasoning, but instead only to worship the onrushing tsunamis of data, then we risk an Orwellian world, dominated by Big Brother or big corporation or big wealth,” Donovan wrote, indicating just how essential it is to study other areas outside of a chosen specialization to get a well-rounded education.

The interdisciplinary knowledge that comes with a liberal arts curriculum in college provides insight into different perspectives, making it possible “to connect with a wider range of environments and personalities,” said Eugene Durkee, Director of the Office of Career and Life Planning at New England College.

And complex problem-solving and critical thinking skills enables analysts to arrive at a conclusion or make a decision using the data collected.

Big Data and Analytics Positions Growing Beyond Tech Companies

Business analytics continues to be a growing profession that spans multiple fields. Over the next five years, 59% of organizations plan to increase the amount of data analysis positions, according to a November 2016 study from the Society for Human Resource Management. However, because of the typically required high level of skills needed for these positions, HR staff may have problems finding people to fill the positions.

Computerworld’s 2017 Tech Forecast found that companies plan to hire people that possess knowledge of business intelligence/analytics (26% of respondents), database administration (25%) and Big Data (25%), among the top 10 skills in demand for 2017.

The field of data analysis encompasses many different occupations, but most seem to be in the accounting and finance departments, with 71% of surveyed companies reporting positions in those areas. More than half (54%) of the companies reported they had analysis positions within their HR departments, and 40% had marketing, advertising and sales analysts.

Using analytics in other fields creates a need for a liberal arts approach to examining and analyzing data. Critical thinking, ability to merge concepts, and working with others within the marketplace of ideas are extremely helpful when examining nuances within the data, or looking at possible risks. Some common fields that use data analytics beyond tech companies include professional sports, auto manufacturers, criminal justice, retail, real estate and entertainment.

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