Hola! I’m Juliette, although most people call me Juju, and I have just graduated from McGill with a joint honours degree in Political Science and International Development Studies with a minor in Hispanic Studies. Despite my recent graduation, I'm not quite done with McGill yet - I'm currently a Policy & Data Science (PODS) Fellow! PODS is a summer program designed to train a new generation of data-driven policy analysts.
I found out about PODS rather unexpectedly, having burst into the Arts Internship Office panicked about what my next steps would be once I’d left the security and comfort of the cocoon that is university. The internship coordinator mentioned that an amazing new initiative was launching this summer, lead by the Centre of Social and Cultural Data Science partnered with the Max Bell School of Public Policy.
Given that I have never thought of myself as a data scientist, or a “coder” as I like to tell all my friends back home, I wasn’t sure whether PODS would be for me. My past experiences had always been very people-oriented and practical, often involving me collecting the data rather than analysing it. I’d worked with some leading defenders of human rights through Equitas’s IHRTP, interviewed refugees and internally displaced persons through the UNHCR in Ecuador, pitched ideas to donors through French NGO Enfants et Devéloppement, and documented protestors for an upcoming documentary I’m making on the rise of the far right in Quebec. As you can see, none of these experiences really screamed “expert computer scientist”.
But that’s why PODS is so great: they don’t want the expert computer scientists. They want people with a wide range of backgrounds and experiences who wouldn’t have otherwise come into contact with the more “techy” stuff. Despite the intimidating schedule we received on the first day, which included learning objectives such as “multivariate regression” and “statistical inference” (don’t worry, I still don’t fully understand these), I have to come to understand how intrinsically linked data analysis is to every single part of our lives. For instance, my PODS internship at Prospered Project, based at the Institute for Health and Social Policy, involves using data to analyze how effective a national child support program, India’s Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), has been in reaching its objectives in providing care and education to young mothers and children. It has been really interesting to be on the other end of a research project – using my new quantitative analysis skills to go deeper into the issue and present a well-researched report based on hard facts, evidence, and graphs (lots and lots of graphs).
Pushing past the stereotype of your average hacker, I can already see how invaluable the skills I have been taught will be to me in whichever future career I decide to pursue. Whilst learning to code has offered me an unprecedented sense of accomplishment (it’s very gratifying to see a screen full of seemingly jumbled characters and actually understand what’s going on), the PODS program has also given us countless opportunities to explore our interests, meet experts in their field and form a network which I think will continue long after these 3 months are over.