Big Data Symposium to Give Students Know-How in Growing Field

George Mason University is teaming with IBM Corp. to give students some "big data" know-how—offering everything from answers to research questions to information on what new jobs are available in this expanding field.
The big data symposium will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 4, at the Johnson Center Cinema on the Fairfax Campus.
"The idea of big data is not just for computer scientists or statisticians," says George Mason electrical and computer engineering professor Bob Osgood, director of the master's degree programs in computer forensics and data analytics engineering, who will moderate a panel discussion at the symposium. "Students from agriculture to urban planning can find answers to research questions by diving into big data. Students can pull data streams from satellites about crop rotation or they can research details about urban population shifts."
Nearly 90 percent of the information available today wasn't available a few years ago, he says. Technology and society have changed to make mining massive amounts of data possible. In less than a decade, we have arrived at the point that we can now look at data at the population level, such as shopping habits, and predict what consumers will buy next.
Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Amazon are among some of the companies that effectively use big data. It's the reason Amazon can make suggestions about what people want to buy, and why Facebook and Twitter are free. The money is in the data, Osgood adds.
Big data also means new jobs. "Companies are looking for people with expertise, but these are skills that can't be taught in a few weeks," he says. "Big data requires academic rigor."
George Mason launched its first master's degree in data analytics engineering this semester. About 82 students are part of the inaugural class.
The Nov. 4 symposium came about after Osgood visited IBM. There will be eight presenters—half from Mason and half from Big Blue. It's an effective mix.
"Big Blue's job is to turn research into dollars," Osgood says. "Our job is to come up with innovative ideas."
A version of this story by Michele McDonald appeared in Mason News Desk on October 29, 2014.
Write to Michele McDonald at