Put the ‘science’ back in social science

To benefit students, CLA needs to bolster the analytic and technical parts of social sciences courses.

Jasper Johnson

During my time as an undergraduate in the College of Liberal Arts, I’ve taken a wide variety of social sciences courses. This semester, I’ve had the opportunity to explore some quantitative and technical courses, including two that teach quantitative analysis and geographic information science (GIS). 
 
 
Many employers and graduate programs look for technical skills in their applicants. As a result, CLA would do well to encourage social science students to explore what many of them dread: math. 
 
 
Undergraduates interested in continuing their social science studies should definitely look into developing technical skills. Doing so can have real payoffs. For example, the “Master’s in Public Policy” program at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs allows an undergraduate course in quantitative analysis to count as a graduate course in quantitative methods.  
 
 
Learning to use data analysis programs like Stata — which some quantitative analysis courses teach — is useful for all sorts of research within social sciences. It allows students to interpret large datasets and is a staple of published research. 
 
 
Another technical skill, GIS, has proven extremely useful in my area of study, political science. Mapping and spatial analysis are important when dealing with issues from gerrymandering to counterterrorism. 
 
 
Researchers — whether they work for corporations, the government or academia — increasingly rely on analytic skills. With the advent of the Internet, large datasets are more readily available than they’ve ever been, and new programs allow for their speedy analysis. 
 
 
Developing technical skills thus opens up many internships and jobs within social sciences. As these skills become more and more important, the University of Minnesota needs to do more to keep up with the times. 
 
 
To be sure, I don’t think something like adding on extra mathematics requirements for CLA social sciences would benefit many students. Instead, technical, analytic course material should tie directly into students’ chosen fields of study. 
 
 
For example, a hypothetical University course could combine GIS skills and political science to promote a theme like electoral analysis in a course whose students study voting behavior and map the patterns they see.
 
 
Some departments already offer more quantitative focus sub-plans, such as sociology department’s Quantitative Emphasis B.S. program. This option includes courses in data analysis and statistics, and the University should use it as a model for other departments.
 
 
The University needs to ensure its students graduate with more of the technical skills they need to succeed in a contemporary research arena. Introducing more quantitative program options could better prepare us to tackle a wider range of projects in our post-graduation work and, apart from that, enrich our learning experience. 
 
 
In other words, it could create a generation of social scientists who aren’t afraid of science. 
 
 
Jasper Johnson welcomes comments at [email protected].