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Monday, May 16, 2022

Columns

Time to crunch some numbers


Students phobic to numbers won’t want to hear this, but knowing your way around statistics and data is more vital than ever. Everyone from retail corporations to media organizations want employees who know math and numbers. On the bright side, mathematics and economics majors can no longer claim a monopoly on the territory.

“There is going to be an increase in the people needed who crunch data. There is just so much data,” political science professor Kent Tedin said. “What we need to do is what I presume the Economics (department) does — handle and analyze data in a sophisticated fashion.”

Tedin teaches public opinion, among other statistics courses, and has good news for students who nearly failed high school algebra:

“It’s not that hard. You don’t have to be a math whiz to learn this sort of data analysis,” he said.

The New York Times published Steve Lohr’s article “The Age Of Big Data” in February, stating that there is an increased demand for data analysis by employers and a lack of analytical employees. The data is available thanks to our morally dubious but popular friends Google, Facebook and Twitter.

Even with the rise in demand, UH has yet to implement much math or statistics into the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, at least where the political science department is concerned.

“The bottom line is, we don’t offer enough in undergraduate political science to compete in the market. It would have to be one of our graduates that focused on statistical math methods,” Tedin said. “Currently we have two (undergraduate) courses, Introduction to Research Design and Statistics. They’re electives, and not many students take them.”

The solution is to increase the amount of data classes for undergraduates, but if there is one thing people fear more than math, it is change.

“My proposal is that all of our undergraduates take two-thirds of their work in political science courses and one-third of their work in statistical and quantitative courses,” Tedin said.  “But if we were to require a third of the courses be quantitative, we’d probably lose (political science) majors.”

Liberal arts seniors who threw away their electives on Mickey Mouse classes might assume it’s too late to learn. They’re almost in the workforce after all, and it would take a few semesters of statistics and calculus to catch up.

“In the summer, go to a community college, and take (Microsoft) Excel,” Tedin said. “You’ve got to know college algebra, calculus probability and a little about integral calculus. Really not much.”

Prepping for a data career after quick classes of Excel and Calculus might contradict with the fact that economics and math seniors are leagues ahead. Still, having something for an employer is better than nothing.

“At some point they’re going to ask ‘What can you do?’ And you can say, ‘I can run Excel and I can do statistical data analysis of whatever data you have. I can get this stuff ready for you’,” Tedin said.

Tedin challenged students in his public opinion course this semester to join the Survey Data Analysis program at UC Berkley, proving the relative ease of such data skills.

“Political data analysis skills might require a fair amount of work, but it’s nothing that the students in my class can’t handle,” Tedin said. “They’re starting from scratch and they’re picking up on it fairly quickly.”

As pointed out in the New York Times article, the methods to organize and analyze data existed well before social media reached into the internet and pulled all the data out. It’s like an old trick for a new dog.

“I’m not developing anything new,” Tedin said. “I take the stuff that other people have developed any simply apply them to social problems.“

 David Haydon is a political science senior and may be reached at [email protected]

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