Clarence White Jr., Ph.D. is a senior cyber security specialist at ICON plc. It is a very reactive, unpredictable role. Security breaches — no matter when they occur — require his immediate attention.
“You can proactively protect your systems, but you’re always at a disadvantage against an attacker with sufficient time, motivation and resources,” says White.
For White, data science presents a new approach. The chance to predict an attack.
“What interests me is the possibility of knowing about an attack ahead of time, like when it is ongoing or about to start and being able to take action sooner,” says White.
That advanced notice means applying data science.
“One of the aspects of predicting attacks is using machine learning, looking at the logs, and analyzing an attacker’s activity on the network to identify an attack signature so that our incident responders can act sooner,” says White.
With a clear professional goal for data science, White just needed to find the right school. As a working professional and a parent of a young child, an online program was the only solution.
“I found out about the Meharry SACS M.S. Data Science program though an alumnus. After reading about it, I thought it would be a good fit,” says White.
The flexibility of the online approach has helped White balance classes, work and family life. Evening classes avoid work conflicts and he often tackles his assignments after putting his two-year old to bed for the night. His supervisor at ICON also generously allows him to block off the course schedule so he can attend class without responding to system attacks.
White and his fellow cohort have also found ways to replicate the supportive environment found in traditional, in-person classes.
“Some of the classes have breakout groups where we discuss topics, but my cohort also set up a Slack channel,” says White. “We use that at any time during the day to discuss homework or project issues. So, if anyone gets stuck, everyone else is there to help.”
White’s interest in data science precedes work in cyber security. As a computational science and engineering doctoral student at North Carolina A&T, he had some exposure to applying machine learning to bioinformatics.
“I was applying machine learning to protein sequences in FASTA format and doing classifications of proteins to the point where we could take the FASTA of a new protein and identify their protein sequence,” says White.
As he progresses through the M.S. Data Science program, data science interests him as much, if not more, than cybersecurity. He now sees a career that possibly focuses on data science applications in cyber security.
White hasn’t been able to combine those fields in the classroom yet, but he eagerly awaits his upcoming Computational Machine Learning course. There is even the chance that he could eventually apply his new skills in data science to support his work in cybersecurity.
“If it involves stopping attackers from breaching a system, then ICON is on board with my pursuing a project while I am still in the program,” says White.