Proposal: An Undergraduate Program in Quantitative Social Science


This is a zeroth draft proposal for a multi-level rollout of a program in quantitative social sciences (QSS) at the undergraduate level at Mills College. In addition for making the general case, the proposal describes:

NOTE (2015): the above should be updated with material on machine learning, positive overlaps with data science ideas, and more on new big data in the social sciences initiatives.


The last decade or so has seen a growing push for increasing women's participation in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. The same time period has seem a sharp shift in the prominence of the more quantitative social sciences. Network science, big data, game theory, and cognitive neuro-social science are just a few of the exciting areas that constitute the "where the action is" in the social sciences.

These subfields are also the ones in which women are most radically unrepresented. One thing this translates into is fantastic opportunities for Mills women we could train to work in these areas. Another thing is the chance for Mills women to have a real impact on the direction of these fields. Although the broad effort to increase women's participation in the STEM fields is laudable in every way, it is arguable that more women in, say, chemistry won't radically change the things chemists study or the way chemistry is done.1 It is less of a stretch to speculate that more diversity among practitioners in cutting edge fields in the social sciences might have a significant impact on the kinds of problems we study as well as the methods we use to study them.

When students self-select away from quantitative fields and quantitative subfields they are sometimes selecting marginalization. They are often responding to outmoded ideas about "helping people" or "helping the world" or enacting the discouragements and limitations society has offered about who should be studying what.

Proposal: Women in ((Hard) Social) Sciences Initiative

Establish a program for the promotion of women's participation in the "hard" social sciences. The program might be a track that cut across the existing social science majors with a few special seminars, a group of faculty advising the students, and a few new courses (including the "Mathematical Social Sciences" course Ryan piloted a few years back). We'd have a budget for bringing to campus women and men social scientists doing the latest and coolest thing on the cutting edge. We'd exploit Mills excellence in teaching mathematics to build a cohort of mathematically adept social science majors. We'd build bridges to the interdisciplinary computer science masters program (see this post) to have our students connecting there. One aspect of the program would build on "learn to code" efforts going on internationally. We would make connections with tech firms in Silicon Valley that have branched out into social science work (Yahoo, Google, Facebook, etc.). We would make connections with emerging efforts at the GSB that would resonate with this.

Coursework Examples

• Calculus, linear algebra, and probability/statistics
• Introduction to mathematical social science
• Introduction to economics
• Advanced introduction to interdisciplinary social science
• Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software
• Geographic Information Systems
• Learning to code
• Discrete math
• Agent models in the Social Sciences
• Introductory probability, econometrics
• Network analysis
• Modeling and simulation

Building the Pipeline

As an institution entrusted by society with the production of future generations of citizens, we have a responsibility to create an infrastructure that will inform and spark the imagination of prospective students, meet students with a range of levels of preparation, bring them up to speed and prepare them for excellence and then connect them to post-Mills opportunities. Building the pipeline requires activity at each of these points in students careers.

The QCSS program will run splashy outreach programs to local public and private high school and community college faculty. It will have a focus on entry-level pedagogy that is optimized to transition students from various levels of preparation to the level of competence and confidence necessary for the rigors of the program.

Graduate programs in these areas are keenly aware at the underrepresentation of women in their ranks. Those of us in contact with practitioners at research universities will work to cultivate relationships from which we can learn better how to prepare our students and through which we can make sure Mills is the supplier of just the candidates they are looking for. During the first several years of the program we will specifically strategize on the sorts of placements we want to make happen.

This program provides an alternative gateway to STEM careers2 and a gateway to top graduate and professional programs and employment opportunities. It will help attenuate the tendency for women being shunted into the "softer" social sciences as these disciplines evolve. It will help to ensure that a new generation of women's voices are present in the "harder" social sciences as these disciplines expand. And it will make a major contribution to increasing the brain-supply in the "harder" social sciences as these disciplines evolve

Broader Impact

In addition to offering several packages of minors, majors, and certificates, we would anticipate a broad program of support for quantitative modules in other courses.

The program would be expected to have dual impact: separate interdisciplinary program for its own students; bolstering excellence in other social science departments by being their de facto quantitative sub-department.

Building on Existing Strengths and Local Resources

Excellent mathematics teaching faculty.
Interdisciplinary Computer Science masters program could use some social science infusion.
Intermedia Arts program could perhaps benefit from social science relationship
Journalism media studies provides potential partnerships (digital journalism, data journalism)
Public Policy and MBA graduate programs.
Faculty in sociology, economics, public policy.
PLEA major is complementary
See also Resources in the Bay Area

QCSS Program Calendar

In addition to courses, the program will offer a regular schedule of workshops, colloquia, and public events. A typical year might look something like this:

Summer Semester May/June August
Courses: Quantitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences Workshops: Math Bootcamps for Graduate Students
Summer Undergraduate Research Participation Program (for rising juniors and seniors)
Fall Semester September October November December
(1) Workshop: Flying Excel
(2) How the QCSS Program Works
(3) Field Trip: Facebook
(1) Workshop: GIS
(2) Workshop: Finding and Crunching Historical Data
(1) Workshop: Experimental Social Science
(2) TedX Event with Local CompQuant Collaborators
(1) Workshop: Coding 101
(2) Workshop: Crossing the Bridge to CS
January Term Minicourses (1) Building Social Science Apps (2) Coding for Social Scientists (3) Getting Started with R
Spring Semester January February March April
Workshop: Careers in QC SocSci (1) Summer Internship Workshop
(2) Field Trip: Google
(3) Ignite Talks @Mills
(1) Workshop: Crowdsourcing and Peer Production
(2) Spring Hackathon
Workshop: Building Your QuantComp Portfolios

Timing, Timelines, Resources

We could define a minor immediately, start work on the concept of certifications/badges/etc., put together a "college major version" that could be shopped to students as early as late spring. Development and staffing of separate major would take longer. Integration with existing programs - a sort of service piece - could be discussed sooner rather than later. Funding scenarios might include seed money for course tweaking, release time to coordinate initial steps and raise further funds.

Some of the legwork involved in working up to the program would be conversations with folks around campus to identify existing functions that might be consolidated into this effort. Our presumption would have to be that we would be able to provide a more hospitable home base for such efforts and/or create opportunities for synergy that were mutually beneficial and attractive.

Component of positions for program would be shared insofar as program provided quantitative courses and modules for other social science majors. Multi-year commitment to buy time from several folks?

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