Oskar Gstrein: Data Science is at the crossroads of where technological and societal capabilities meet.
|Date:||08 February 2022|
If you want to get to know more about the Bachelor's programme Data Science and Society (DSS), the first person you would probably want to talk to is the programme director, Oskar Gstrein. Find out more about Oskar, how data contributes to society and about the programme in this interview.
Can you tell something about yourself?
My name is Oskar and I am living in Groningen. I am the programme director of DSS. I started working at Campus Fryslân 3.5 years ago, after having lived in Germany and Malta, with many trips to Geneva and cities such as Brussels, Paris, London, Rome, Bucharest, Prague, Brno and more remote locations such as Toronto, Hong Kong, Rio de Janeiro, as well as the United States east and west coast.
Originally, I studied law and philosophy at the University of Innsbruck in Austria and I still feel very much like ‘living in between’ these disciplines and having made the right decision to study both, although it was neither obviously necessary, nor straightforward.
What opportunities has Data Science given you?
I am not a Data Scientist in the traditional sense. I went to a secondary school with a very broad education, within which there was a focus on mathematics and natural sciences such as physics, biology and chemistry, as well as informatics. When I was getting more advanced in my legal studies, I focused on human rights with a particular emphasis on ‘human dignity in the digital age’. I started with my PhD project in 2012 and chose the topic of a ‘right to be forgotten’, which is all about controlling personal data on the Internet. First, that was a highly abstract and academic topic, which meant there was hardly any literature available. However, the topic quickly became much discussed with the emergence of case law and the General Data Protection Regulation of the EU. People just started to care more about privacy online and that made my skills more relevant.
I guess, I was just always interested in what I did and looking for the potential in topics, more than their obvious appeal or immediate dividends. This has created meaning for what I did, and I think pursuing similar paths–in a very broad sense–will be beneficial and meaningful for like-minded students.
What inspired you to pursue a career in Data Science?
Data Science is important, because it is at the crossroads of where technological and societal capabilities meet. This is crucial to understand, since I believe we live in a time where it is becoming more important to connect the insights from different fields than being the best individual in one niche. Many of the questions we face today are ‘larger than the sum of their parts’ - to quote Greek philosopher Aristotle - and we should acknowledge and react accordingly, as a society.
What do you think is the future of Data Science?
I truly believe that in 5-10 years from now being a ‘Data Scientist’ will be a regular job, just like becoming a lawyer, teacher or a doctor. There is just so much data that experts will be needed ‘to make sense of it’. Corporations have tons of data that they need to understand the value and meaning of, but also public institutions such as cities are in a similar situation. There is a lot of potential and nobody knows how to use it.
How does data contribute to society?
It is not a given that it does contribute at all. Famously,the American historian Melvin Krantzberg is quoted as stating that ‘data is neither good, nor bad, nor neutral.’ Therefore, as society we need experts who engage in Data Science and understand it as something - not a commodity, certainly not a raw material that should be exploited just like ‘oil’ - that shapes reality and the lives we live.
There is urgency in addressing this. The decisions algorithms make shape our lives. They decide whether we get good jobs, receive social benefits, are able to buy a house etc. The decisions autonomous-systems make will decide over life and death–like the ‘Moral Machine’ already demonstrates. This reads dramatically, but all of this is meaningful and happening lightning quick. All of our devices can be connected and that is great; but should they be and if yes, how? These are the questions we need to answer.
How does DSS distinguish itself from other data-science-society related study programmes in the Netherlands/Europe?
After having gone through the accreditation process with the authorities and experts, we can confidently say that DSS is unique. It is truly interdisciplinary from the very beginning. We connect views, perspectives and threads of thought from an early stage. This allows students to gain much desired skills, build a broad mindset, develop their personalities, and orient themselves in this quickly changing landscape. There is also space to make individual choices and go with the specialisation and path that suits them best.
Why would you recommend this study to prospective students?
This is an emerging area where there is a lot of opportunity and demand. During the development phase we worked closely with our excellent Programme Advisory Council–including members from both industry and public institutions–to understand the demand of potential future employers, and we provide hands-on opportunities to collaborate with them. This includes simulation exercises and field projects to build your own network.
Equally important, Campus Fryslân provides a unique and stimulating environment in a new building, where you think about how to solve global challenges in a tightly knit community with space for being yourselves. It might not be the obvious choice, but we all work hard every day to make it the right choice for you.