Saturday, November 24, 2012

About Me

This is not really about me. However, the purpose of this blog is to help people like me—social scientists who want to become data scientists—and describing myself and the steps I take to become a data scientist will provide a useful example.

Until recently, I was a tenure-track professor of political science at a small liberal arts college. That meant I was spending most of my time on teaching, though I never stopped doing research; the small size of the department also meant that I was a generalist, teaching subjects outside my own specialty, including research and survey methods (that is, I was the statistics teacher for the college's political science and sociology majors).

In November of 2011, I found out I was going to lose my job after that school year. The normal thing to do in such a situation would have been to find a new academic job—in fact, I wasn't the only one in this situation, and the other professor who was released found a better job. However, I had begun to doubt the wisdom of pursuing an academic career, for two reasons. First of all, I wonder about my ability as a teacher; my student evaluations, especially in the beginning, were not as good as I might have hoped, though my policy of grading hard (and, worse making students think I would grader even harder than I actually did) probably had a lot to do with this. Evaluations aside, I think, from observing my students' progress over time, that I'm a competent teacher, but I don't think I'm a great teacher, and I want to apply my talens in an area where I'll excel. (Yes, a job at a research university has always been a possibility, but I have ethical concerns about working somewhere that pays lip service to the educational mission, but rewards its faculty for research instead.)

My second concern is the future of higher education in general. Soaring costs, decreasing numbers of tenured professors, and a possible shift to online (and even internationally outsourced) courses make a job as a professor a bad bet, to my mind at least.

In addition, I have simply found the task of grading in particular to be supremely frustrating: students are ill-prepared by public education, and I tie myself in knots trying to help them overcome this, rather than just kicking the can down the road like everyone else (and the students don't necessarily appreciate being told they need to up their games, either).

So where did that leave me? I set out to find a job in the private sector of government, a job that focused more on research. That has proved a lot harder than I expected....

To see the resources I've assembled for the aspiration data scientist, please visit my "Useful Links" page.


I would have linked an article on expected grades and student evaluations, but the subject is so controversial that no single article could give a full picture. Also, the best articles are generally in PDF form and posted on researchers' websites; while such reposting is acceptable under the publication agreeements of most academic publishers, these links tend to look suspicious to people checking for copyright violations.

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