This is the final part of our discussion with Professor Dmitry Krass, Academic Director of the Master of Management Analytics program, to look back over the first year of the program, and to discuss how the program will evolve moving forward to best prepare our graduates for careers in the analytics industry.
This is the third of three posts, and focuses on some adjustments to the practicum.
How will the program evolve in future years?
Practicum projects are another unique feature of the Rotman MMA.
The idea was to give students a taste of real-life analytics, without placing them on an external internship. The problem with internships is that they can be hit or miss; sometimes they lead to great experiences and skills development, while at other times the experience is less positive, and the projects the students are assigned to can be of limited depth. Another issue with the internships is that they typically take place after the courses are over, making it harder to relate skills learned in courses to the practical challenges faced during the internship
With our practicum project, we wanted to replicate the real-life immersive experience of the internship, while retaining some control over the depth of the project. We wanted to be sure that the students are exposed to all the key aspects of analytics, from problem identification, to finding and structuring the required data, performing the analyses, and communicating the results. We also wanted to make sure that the project runs concurrently with the course work, making it possible for the students to relate the material they learn in each class directly to the project they are working on.
Many business analytics program have a “capstone” project. While this may look similar to our practicum, it is actually quite different. In a capstone project a company typically provides the dataset, students are divided into teams, and the teams produce various models for the dataset. They may present their results to the company, or just to the program faculty, with only the best presentation goes to the company. Often the students have very limited information of the business background, where the data comes from, how the business operates, and what the real issues are. The capstone project is usually short in duration – lasting anywhere from two to four weeks.
Our practicum projects are much more similar to a real-life consulting project. If a company engages with a consultancy they would pose the problem and expect the consultancy to drive the process, from understanding the business background to exploring the datasets may be available to then carrying out the analytical work before presenting it back to the company. This is how the practicums are structured. I should also note that ability to structure an analytical project from start to finish is one of the key skills the market is demanding.
One of the learnings from last year was that the scope of the practicum projects is very ambitious and students need training on basic project management skills to use their practicum time efficiently. This year we are providing more training on such skills, emphasizing “Agile” management ideas and techniques – another key set of skills demanded by the market.
Success of the practicums
The practicum project was identified by students in our first class as the key feature of the program. The vast majority of post-program placements was with the organizations who were our practicum hosts. Even though they did not necessarily hire the students from the team assigned to them, seeing MMA students first-hand was convincing that this is a good talent pool to hire from.
For the coming year, we are expanding the number of projects we offer, with new companies in the insurance and healthcare sectors, as well as a municipal organization. One of the most pleasing thing is that many of the organizations we worked with in the first year are coming back to offer a new project for our second year. This reflects the value they derived from the project.
The Master of Management Analytics is designed to give students the advanced data management, analytics and communication skills needed to become an analytics professional in 9 months.