What makes an individual a data scientist? Are there any courses that can be pursued in school to equip such individuals?
To publish papers and teach data science, an MS or Ph.D. in a hard science is probably a good idea. Some employers may be willing to take a chance on someone without any traditional qualifications if they've proven they can "do" data science well in some other capacity first. And you can certainly employ data science to win DS competitions (like Kaggle) with no traditional degree at all. And if you rank highly in a real competition, that generally counts as much or more than a Ph D for many employers and schools. So what skills do you need to win at Kaggle?...All scientists, engineers, or just good citizens should learn statistics. Statistics can inform everyday decisions as well as data modeling. Additionally, most good citizens would be wise to learn a programming language so they can enjoy the pleasure of teaching machines to do things for us even better than we can do those things for ourselves (including data science). These, plus a lot of online or traditional learning about data science, predictive analytics, robotics, controls, DSP, or machine learning will put you in good stead to win DS competitions. You can also specialize in a "domain" (e.g. medicine, aerospace, lingustics, biology, engineering, or finance) to further enhance your employability and success. Pursue your passion.