Speaking to the "collecting data" part of the question, I'll say this:
Keep in mind that not everything requires massive amounts of data. Consider also that large amounts of data about all sorts of things are available in the OpenData / LinkedData realms. Governments in particular are sources of massive amounts of data. See, for example, data.gov or Google around and see if your (state|city|county|whatever) has an "open data" portal. You might be surprised.
Finally consider that inexpensive sensor systems and distributed sensor networks can be constructed fairly easily / inexpensively using things like Arduino / Raspberry Pi and communications protocols and software often associated with the term Internet of Things. You may find that you can actually collect your own data, especially if you crowd-source the effort and get a bunch of other people involved.