3 Things the Best Online Master's Programs in Artificial Intelligence Have in Common

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Present-day artificial intelligence, or AI, is exciting. AI is driving drug discovery, automating transportation, keeping construction workers safer, and handling customer service. In 10 years, according to some predictions, artificial intelligence systems will provide what we need before we need it because they will know more about us than we know about ourselves. AI will also create more jobs than it automates out of existence, which means ample opportunities for those with the right skills, the right credentials, and the right connections.

People associate career advancement in fields like artificial intelligence with technical aptitude, but a computer science background or bachelor's degree isn't enough to launch a career. A generalist computer science master's degree and basic artificial intelligence skills aren't enough. Being a part of the disruption happening now and the disruption yet to come is a matter of going all-in on AI by pursuing a degree in a top program like the SMU Lyle School of Engineering's Online Master of Science in Computer Science with Artificial Intelligence Specialization (MSCS-AI) and taking advantage of what sets it apart from other accredited AI and computer science master's programs.

Surprisingly, the differentiating factor is not technology but humanity. You can learn the fundamentals of algorithm engineering, machine learning, and Natural Language Processing (NLP) in many settings. You can only connect with the people driving technological advancement and leading social change in artificial intelligence in a top program like SMU Lyle's 10-course, 20-month MSCS-AI. What makes it one of the best online master's programs in artificial intelligence is not just the leading-edge curriculum or the engaging online student experience but also the people.

Why the People Behind the Program Matter

The best online master's programs in artificial intelligence have three things in common:

  • Professors, faculty, and staff who are leaders, diverse, and accessible
  • Graduates employed in the industry and active in alumni networks
  • Students who are smart, driven, and supportive

Professors, Faculty, and Staff Who are Leaders, Diverse, and Accessible

Professors and faculty in top AI master's programs don't just deliver lectures and guide students through the curriculum; they also specialize in artificial intelligence. They're highly educated—nearly 85 percent of full-time Southern Methodist University faculty members hold a doctorate or the highest degree in their specialties—and regularly engage with real-world applications of intelligent systems or emerging theories driving innovation in the field.

It's not just about reputation. While it's important that professors, faculty, and staff be respected professionals in AI, what's more important is that they can bring an up-to-date perspective to the artificial intelligence curriculum. Professional engagement is a source of knowledge and industry connections that make it easier for students to land prestigious internships with notable employers and gain entry into influential professional organizations.

A diverse faculty also benefits students. Top AI master's programs are often offered by institutions that appreciate how representation helps diversify artificial intelligence—a discipline that thrives on a wider range of perspectives. The World Economic Forum's 2020 Global Gender Gap Report found that just 26 percent of professionals in AI and data science are women. The state of racial diversity in AI and Machine Learning (and tech in general) is worse. Black and Latinx people hold just 6.8 percent of computing jobs, according to the Brookings Institute. There's still a lot of work to be done to combat this lack of diversity—even in the best online master's programs in artificial intelligence—but programs like the SMU MSCS-AI are helping change the face of AI. Currently, 32 percent of Lyle School of Engineering students are women, and the Lyle School of Engineering received the ASEE Bronze award for diversity and inclusion from The American Society for Engineering Education.

Finally, top programs for distance learners ensure students have ample access to professors. Graduate-level higher education should be a personal experience whether you study on campus or online. At SMU, the student-faculty ratio is a conservative 11-to-1, so MSCS-AI candidates can build relationships with faculty—even when they learn online.

Graduates Who are Employed in the Industry and Active in Alumni Networks

Alumni networks are valuable in a field like AI, where demand for expertise is growing rapidly across industries. Employers outside of tech aren't always sure what to look for when trying to fill open positions and are often happy to take recommendations from existing employees. SMU Lyle Online students seeking internships or employment can tap into an active alumni network populated by graduates who work for elite organizations around the United States and for Big Tech companies and innovative startups in Texas (which is second only to California for tech jobs). According to LaborInsight's analysis of SMU alumni, 88 percent of the university's MSCS-AI grads find relevant employment after graduation.

Many work for hard-to-break-into companies like:

  • Amazon
  • Citi
  • Deloitte
  • Google
  • Microsoft
  • Oracle

You don't have to wait until you graduate to take advantage of an active alumni network. It isn't unusual for alumni to offer guidance, career support, and mentorship to current students. Even prospective students can leverage the power of alumni by reaching out to recent MSCS-AI graduates in fields like information technology, healthcare, computer systems design, software development, and Big Data to ask about their experiences in the program and how their degree has benefited them professionally.

Students Who are Smart, Driven, and Supportive

Networking is an integral part of graduate school, and the best online master's programs in artificial intelligence are populated by students who are excited to build new connections. SMU students who meet the admissions requirements and enroll in the MSCS-AI program live worldwide and work in a wide range of roles in technology. As different as they are, however, they're similarly intelligent and ambitious. Connecting with these peers in a meaningful way is important because every friend you make in graduate school can become a source of advice, support, or opportunity at some point in your career. They're also the people you can recommend hiring managers at your company check out when positions open up.

Community is another factor to consider. Studying in a vacuum is isolating and can be demoralizing when online course material gets tough. The best online AI master's programs acknowledge that and encourage students to form communities of support. Students can reach out to their peers when they need help with coursework, advice about navigating an unfamiliar employment landscape, and help balancing full-time work and a part-time master's program.

One more benefit of choosing a top online AI-focused master's degree program is that your online learning experience will include exposure to a geographically, culturally, economically, and racially diverse group of peers. Artificial intelligence has an unintentional bias problem caused by incomplete data. You will be better equipped to leverage AI-powered technologies like deep learning neural networks or computer vision in beneficial ways across demographics because your classmates shared their perspectives.

What the People Behind the Program are Doing at SMU Lyle

When looking at master's-level artificial intelligence degree programs, consider the kind of research faculty and graduate students are doing. Southern Methodist University is a respected research institution that regularly receives grants from government agencies, foundations, and private companies to fund research across a wide range of engineering and applied science. Students enrolled in the online MSCS-AI who are interested in participating in research can contact the academic department or the SMU AI Lab. Faculty research areas at SMU Lyle School of Engineering include semi-structured Machine Learning, cybersecurity, data mining, data science, electronic design automation, and software engineering.

You can earn an online degree in artificial intelligence without taking part in the research, but research into AI and related fields can kick start a long and happy AI career. You will graduate with practical experience that demonstrates the kind of value you can provide. Even if you ultimately decide not to take part in faculty research efforts, however, you'll still benefit from them. Notable faculty research boosts a school's reputation and can inspire employers to prioritize applications submitted by its graduates. It can also reshape the curriculum to reflect the latest innovations in the field.

How to Maximize the Value of Human Capital in an Online, Part-Time MSCS-AI Program

You will reap some of the benefits of choosing a top artificial intelligence master's program like SMU Lyle's just by enrolling. All computer science degree candidates benefit from the Lyle School of Engineering Department of Computer Science's reputation for world-class research and for graduating leaders in computer science. The rest is up to you. If you plan on working full-time while you earn your degree, a flexible 100 percent online, part-time MSCS-AI program is the best option. You won't need to move across the country to attend an in-person computer science program or spend valuable hours of your life commuting to and from class. You won't sacrifice any earnings or have any gaps on your resume. You will, however, need to put in the effort it takes to build relationships with faculty, peers, and alumni if you want to maximize the ROI of your degree.

The best online master's programs in artificial intelligence provide distance learners with opportunities to be a part of what's happening on campus, connect with classmates, attend events virtually or in person, and take advantage of the relationships faculty have with leaders and organizations in the AI sphere. It's up to you to contribute in class substantively and share the professional experiences that led you to the MSCS-AI program, engage with your professors, participate in their research, and reach out to the SMU alumni network after graduation to find mentors and mentor others. Do all that while pursuing an Online M.S. in Computer Science with Artificial Intelligence Specialization, and you'll have all the resources you need to shape the future of AI.

Are you ready to learn more about how the SMU Lyle Online MSCS-AI will help you achieve your career goals? Get your questions answered, and then apply.