Coding and Social Science Conundrums: My Experience with QSS
The Quantitative Social Science (QSS) Program at Dartmouth is relatively new department that strives to teach students to analyze social science problems using statistical and computational tools. Most of the professors in the QSS department also work in other social science departments like government, sociology or psychology, etc. I was first introduced to the Quantitative Social Science program during the spring term of my junior year. Having just completed my New Zealand Foreign Study Program where I took three anthropology classes, I was looking to challenge my brain with a different type of learning and stumbled upon a class entitled “Race, Incarceration and Politics: By the Numbers." When I arrived to class on the first day and read the syllabus, I realized that this was exactly the change of pace I was looking for. The class, which met on Tuesday and Thursday mornings for two hours, was split evenly between data analysis in R (a coding language) and reading academic social science literature about everything from gerrymandering to prisons. For my final project in the class, I looked at the Florida Voter File, a database of every registered voter in Florida that notes whether or not they voted, and tried to predict whether a decrease in black voter turnout between 2012 and 2016 was responsible for Florida changing from a Democratic to Republican state in the presidential election.
This past summer, I spent a lot of time reflecting about my senior year and what I wanted to make of the year. In late August I made the decision to drop my computer science minor in favor of complete a QSS minor. My rationale for this was that I loved being able to combine two things that I found interesting: coding and social science research.
Dartmouth is one of the only schools in the country with a Quantitative Social Science Program. Although I was unaware of the Quantitative Social Science program when I committed to Dartmouth, this type of interdisciplinary program was exactly what I was looking for in a school. Adding a minor your senior year is no small feat - it required a ton of schedule reorganization and forced me to sacrifice other class I had wanted to take before graduating. The QSS department chair was extremely helpful and met with me to ensure that I could meet all of the requirements in time.
This fall I took a class called Data Visualization with Professor Yusaku Horiuchi. When Professor Horiuchi first starting teaching the class a few years ago he taught one section for the entire year. In the last year, interest in the class has exploded to the point that he now teaches two sections every term. The professor opts to use a flipped classroom, meaning that we watch taped lectures for homework and apply our learning through activities in class. The main lessons I learned from this class were how to modify data sets and how to present data in an efficient manner through a visualization. While taking this class, I was able to directly apply my knowledge in a data project I was assigned to at work.