Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

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Q&A with the Academic Director: Professor Opher Baron

In our final blog post with Professor Opher Baron, Academic Director, Master of Management Analytics, we look at some of the opportunities that the pandemic has opened up for the program, and talk about one of the strengths of the program at Rotman: the Data Scientists in Residence.

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How has the pandemic and online teaching impacted the program?

The move to fully online teaching due to Covid was something we were nervous about. It was a big change for both faculty and students. However, it is something that we are now much more comfortable with, and most importantly the students are comfortable with it. The biggest fear was whether the students would be as engaged in the program and in the virtual classroom. They certainly havebeen , so the program has continued to succeed, even with the different experiences of online delivery.

One positive that has come out of the move to online delivery is that it has opened up the potential for practicum projects with international organizations. 

For the practicums to work, we need access to company data. Companies, rightly, have previously been very concerned about their data being available remotely. However, during Covid, with employees working from home, companies have been able to facilitate such access to data. This does open up opportunities for us to work with more organizations in countries outside of Canada, and is something we are adding to the program, without losing the great projects we have within Canada.

We have three Data Scientists in Residence (DSR). What do they bring to the program?

They are really important to the program. They bring day-to-day analytics experiences to the program.  They are doing the things we talk about in the classroom all the time, they are encountering new challenges as the industry evolves, working on the solutions and making an impact on organizations. They are extremely smart people and help to make sure we’re teaching the right things in the program.

They also help us to develop great learning materials. We run three or four datathons a year for our students and that is a lot of work. To run them, we need to develop a business challenge and bring together some data to help solve it. As these datathons are not intended to be long projects, the data we provide to students has to be cleaner, and better defined than what might be available in the real-world, and the case must have clear learning outcomes while allowing students to test out different ideas. The DSRs are an enormous help with this. They also have access to different types of data sets.  We had one datathon that had data from the City of Toronto, the Toronto Police Service and a GPS company. They were data sets you might not have considered putting together, but that’s one thing that is extremely important in business analytics – pulling different data together to find better solutions.

The datathons, and analytics projects in general, are interesting as there is no textbook answer. The students can come up with different solutions. Model selection is interesting too. You might not want to go with the model that is the most accurate, which is what you would do with a typical statistical view of things. You are looking for the model that will best support decision-making and would be robust. You might end up using a combination of models. It is about understanding why you are making the choices to use or not use a model, or to use or not use a type of data in relation to the challenge you are trying to solve.

What makes you most proud about being involved with the MMA program?

For me, the proudest part is looking at the final deliverables for the practicum projects. When you see the growth from the students, from who we meet during interviews and at the beginning of the program to those who are delivering to a company at the end of it, it is tremendous. It isn’t just about their final presentations being as good as they are, it’s about seeing them channel their energy as they get to the end of the practicums, working under the tight deadlines, and delivering excellent results. That is what I am proud of.

The fact that our students perform so well means the organizations want to work with us again. When I get in touch to see if they want to participate, many already have ideas of several projects they would like our students to solve.

The companies also want to hire our graduates. About a quarter of the students this year were hired by practicum hosts, and it is great to see how a majority of our students find great jobs even before graduation.

The Master of Management Analytics is designed to give students the advanced data management, analytics and communication skills needed to become an analytics professional. 

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