PODS Spotlight: Emma Ebowe

Hi everyone! I'm Emma. I'm just about to graduate from McGill with a joint honours degree in Political Science and German Studies and a minor in Economics (hopefully)! I'm also delighted to be one of the PODS Fellows.

Before coming to McGill, I worked at a management consultancy firm which was implementing a welfare reform programme in Britain. Being part of this project was an incredible experience – but the system required a huge amount of technical support. As an analyst with no computer literacy and coding skills (basic Excel was a real struggle for me), I found myself increasingly frustrated. I was unable to see how the policy issues were related to all the technical mumbo-jumbo around me.

When I came to McGill, I was excited to learn more about the practical implications of government policy decisions and to maybe make sense of where the technical stuff fits in. What I found, was a Poli Sci degree that was extremely rewarding and challenging, but for the most part, largely theoretical.

Until I found the PODS programme! PODS gave me the skills to test the theories I'd learned at university by using data. Previously, I had been a fellow of the Political Theory-based Research Group on Constitutional Studies, which frequently discussed the logic behind certain government policies and actions. I had also worked with McGill Digital Humanities .txtLab which used computational analysis to answer broad questions (such as: how often do researchers make generalized, unsubstantiated claims in academic journals?) But, I had never been able to combine these skills to analyze theory-driven policy questions. And this is undoubtedly one of the best things about PODS - the policy questions we consider are actively theory-driven, and acknowledge that fact.

I am currently working with Nexalogy, a social media analytics company based in the Mile End. Using their software and my new PODS coding skills, I am analyzing white supremacist hate tweets in Canada (and the world) from the year after Donald Trump's proposed travel ban in the US. There is a phenomenal amount of theoretical work implicit in this analysis, including assumptions about what counts as racism, white supremacy, islamophobia and anti-Semitism. As computational analysis becomes an increasingly powerful tool for policy research, and also a tool whose theoretical assumptions are seldom questioned, programs like PODS are becoming more and more vital.

PODS is training a generation of data-driven policy analysts. It's creating a more diverse group of computer-literate professionals who can engage in both the theoretical questions and the technical analysis. The coding skills I've learned so far are marketable for almost any future career I pursue, and more importantly, coding is surprisingly fun!

Follow my progress (and learn more about the other PODS fellows) on Twitter and Facebook!

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