Social scientists get data-savvy

The second year of the PODS program has just wrapped up

In the 21st century data science forms the core of the public policy development. It’s critical for policy analysts to have the ability to work confidently with data, but too often they are not equipped with the skills to do so.

The Policy and Data Science (PODS) Program is aimed at bridging just this gap. Presented by McGill’s Centre for Social and Cultural Data Science and the Max Bell School of Public Policy, this innovative program gives promising arts students the technical skills to tackle Canada’s biggest policy problems.

Now in its second year, the PODS Program trains students with both hard-core data analysis skills in an intensive bootcamp, and practical experience with the program’s internship component.

A key outcome of the program is the demystification of data science: “Prior to this program, I never thought I could grasp the quantitative methods necessary for effective policy solutions,” says PODS Fellow Tamara Yang. “With no background in coding or statistical analysis, I felt ill-equipped to contribute to the world of educational policy, but I now consider it to be a major asset to my prior knowledge and research interests.” 

PODS classmate Kate Marr-Laing, agrees: “PODS opened a door to a world I barely knew existed and gave me the tools to go explore it.”

Beyond the nuts and bolts of programming, the PODS fellows are given an opportunity to apply their new skills in a meaningful way with the internship program, where students are placed in some of the leading policy and data science organisations in Montreal. The internships are essential to gaining insight into how policy analysis works in practice. Of her internship, Kate Marr-Laing reflects: “My work at the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP) allowed me to gain confidence in quantitative research methods - experience that will be vital for a future career in public policy.”

The hosting organisations are just as enthusiastic about the program as the students are.

“The combination of a social sciences perspective and quantitative data skills is exactly what we need to move from anecdote to analysis on complex policy questions,” says David Kaiser of Centre intégré universitaire de santé et de services sociaux de Centre-Sud-de-l’Ile de Montréal.

Colin Busby, Research Director at the IRPP also recognises the value of the program: “It is rewarding to share a passion for policy with PODS interns and mentor them to use data to help solve thorny policy issues. Canadians’ future well-being depends on the ability to develop sound public policy – and data science helps policy-makers find answers to complex policy problems.”

“The PODS students are just the first of a long line of data-savvy social scientists that will emerge from this kind of initiative at McGill,” concludes Dr. Mark Daku, the PODS bootcamp leader.

Find out more about the program here.

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