What are some of the most important things you learn in an MPA/MPP program? Data management would certainly be on that list.
This semester, Dr. Toma is teaching a “Government Information Systems” to MPP and MPA students. A cornerstone of policy implementation and research is data. Understanding data collection, management, and analysis is paramount, and we've never had greater access to it than we do today. The aim of the course is to provide students with the tools needed to answer important policy questions with data—where can data be found? How do you work with Excel and Stata, the computer package used by social scientists to calculate statistics on large data sets, to answer these questions? At the beginning of the course, Dr. Toma shared with students that doing a regression is the easiest part of research—finding and preparing the data for analysis is much of the blood, sweat, and tears.
The class is very hands-on—the group meets in the computer lab every week to work with data sets. The semester started with an introduction to the ethics of data management and the IRB process. There have often speakers who are experts in managing data from a particular field, such as education, transportation, and healthcare. Some of these speakers are practitioners in the field, while others have been Ph.D. students who will continue to be great resources for MPA/MPP students.
The class will culminate in a research project. Each student selects a question of interest, finds his or her own data sources, and creates a data set to analyze. “I’m treating this project as an opportunity to get a head-start on my Capstone,” explains Sarah Smith, a first-year student. “I’m really excited about my topic, and I hope the product will be a great marketing tool to showcase my interests and abilities when I start looking for jobs after graduation next year.”
If you’re looking for an elective for the fall, let us make a suggestion—add this class to your shortlist. You’ll be a better researcher for it.