A new program from the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA), called Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences (QMSS), will provide students with new opportunities to learn and expand their knowledge of quantitative methods for use with big data as part of their social sciences training and to provide the knowledge and skills that empower students to work in the rapidly changing environment of human data analysis. The program, which includes a new interdisciplinary minor, was approved by the University of Michigan Board of Regents in December 2019. 

QMSS builds on the historical strengths of LSA’s social sciences research and instruction while dramatically expanding the types and kinds of work that undergraduates will be exposed to, including working with big data, parsing online information, and more.

“Right now our society is drowning in data,” says Jan Van den Bulck, the director of the QMSS Program. “Every person, every institution, and every machine gathers data, but we need humans to come up with the right questions. The world needs people who are not afraid to gather and analyze data, whether we are talking about psychological experiments in a lab or scraping Twitter to analyze opinion. QMSS helps students do that.”

“The world needs problem solvers,” says Associate Dean for Social Sciences Rosario Ceballo. “QMSS puts cutting-edge research methods into the hands of students and asks them to use those methods in ways that are fruitful and meaningful to them—as part of their preparation for life after graduation or as contributions to research endeavors while they work as undergraduate students on research teams.”

Students minoring in QMSS will leave the university with a toolbox of research skills and a portfolio of work, Van den Bulck says, things that will help them land internships and successfully navigate the job market. Students will be able to show that they have mastered designing and conducting studies, analyzing and reporting on data, and working with a range of software applications. The program also trains students to ask important questions about who is doing research and how they are doing it.

“Our trajectory also focuses on the ethics of methods,” says Van den Bulck. “How you conduct research, who initiates data gathering, and who gets access to the results affects which members of society benefit from the scholarship. We look at all of that.”

QMSS offers a very broad view of both the social sciences and data-based research that will help students grow into well-versed, empirical problem solvers.

“There is growing demand for people with these skills and they are rarely provided at the undergraduate level,” says Van den Bulck. “It’s like getting grad school experience without paying grad school tuition. We really hope LSA social science students will take advantage of this educational opportunity.”

Van den Bulck is also excited about the opportunities the program offers to recruit new students—students who might not think of themselves as the kind of people who would sign up for a program with the word “quantitative” in the title.

“There is no denying that the words ‘Quantitative Methods’ make people think of stats, and stats make them think of math,” Van den Bulck says. “Many people self-select out of those areas of studies because of experienced or imagined hurdles. But we want students to know that if they are interested in questions about humanity and society that the social sciences deal with, we will make sure they develop the skills they need. We want to be a community where there are no stupid questions, only explanations that have not achieved their goal yet. And we have workshops and clinics and other initiatives to help you when you need a little extra effort to catch up or to ‘get it.’

“We are focused on extra tutoring, encouraging student exploration, and providing a nurturing environment that welcomes questions of all kinds while students strive to reach their goals.”

QMSS will launch in fall 2020. Learn more at lsa.umich.edu/qmss.


Top image by Julia Lubas