Training Data Scientists

October 25, 2019

According to Forbes, the worldwide big data market is projected to grow from $42 billion in 2018 to $103 billion in 2027 and more than 150 zettabytes (150 trillion gigabytes) of data will need analysis by 2025.

UT PGE associate professor Michael Pyrcz, who joined UT PGE last year after spending more than a decade in industry, is excited about training the next generation of data scientists who will be able to solve the oil and gas industry’s technology challenges. Putting his passion into practice, Pyrcz launched a student program in the fall of 2019 on energy analytics.

The program is a part of the Freshmen Research Initiative (FRI) housed in the UT Austin College of Natural Sciences. Now in its 15th year, about 1,000 first-year students participate in the program with 35 students enrolled specifically in Pyrcz’s energy analytics class. It is taught primarily by assistant professor of practice Jesse Pisel, who was previously a data scientist at the Wyoming State Geological Survey.

“Let’s get students doing innovative research from day one,” Pyrcz said. “It is important to be developing scientists with a broad range of knowledge in data analytics. We are teaching methods for any type of spatial/environmental problem – students can use it in space, in the subsurface, or on the surface with trees or water.”

Pyrcz’s program is unique in that he is the first Cockrell School of Engineering faculty member to exclusively lead a FRI program in the College of Natural Sciences and it is the first to be supported by a corporate partner – ConocoPhillips. In addition to the FRI, Pyrcz will also be leading a practicum section of the newly launched Inventor’s Program. It designed to provide entrepreneurial opportunities on the UT Austin campus to students enrolled in STEM majors.

“The oil and natural gas industry is rapidly innovating and utilizing leading-edge data science techniques to find, develop and produce hydrocarbon resources more effectively,” said ConocoPhillips Chief Technology Officer Gregory P. (Greg) Leveille. “ConocoPhillips’ relationship with The University of Texas has been a rich source of talent for us and we are delighted to support the data science program. Programs like this one strengthen students' skill sets by preparing them to enter industry already experienced in data science techniques.”

To ensure the students are ready to hit the ground running in their careers, the class provides experiential learning opportunities on technical topics such as data analytics, geostatistics, and machine learning. In addition, the plan after the first year is to have the students who participated in the program return to serve as mentors to the next class.

“Our hope for this initiative is to have students who remain engaged in data science research throughout their four years on campus,” Pyrcz said. “There is an incredible amount of opportunity in this field right now – data-driven methods are impacting every scientific and engineering field.”