Physical and social sciences share students and classroom space, but part ways, oftentimes, in the approach to research. For example, social sciences don’t generally have topics that can be studied in a laboratory setting. Physical sciences can’t use a petri dish to explain low voter turnout in off-year elections.
Still, the next generation of researchers in physical and social sciences will need newer research skills that meld both perspectives for a more unified picture of research, skills that even their professors may not have.
“Empirical Implications of Theoretical Models,” or “EITM” (rhymes with “item”), is the title of a new research approach for unifying formal and statistical analysis, and the topic of a summer training institute at the University of Houston directed by Jim Granato, director of the UH Hobby Center for Public Policy (HCPP) and former political science program director at the National Science Foundation. The Institute brought together lecturers and students from around the country.
“In most universities, the curriculum largely reflects the tools that were needed to do the work of those who finished graduate school 10 or 15 years ago,” said Guillermina Jasso, professor of sociology at New York University. She was a featured lecturer in the UH summer institute and also previously served on the National Science Foundation (NSF) advisory committee for the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences Directorate. “This type of work -- to do it without constraints, to do it well -- you have to master some skills that most social scientists did not learn when they were in graduate school.”
This is the first year of the Summer Institute, housed in the HCPP. Granato says this training institute is necessary for students and faculty who aren’t getting this instruction anywhere else.
“EITM is meant to build a cumulative social and behavioral science,” he said. “The means to that goal is to create a transparent relation between theory and test.”
Jasso says to prepare the next generation of researchers, we must provide students with several tools for their tool box:
- Calculus, including multivariable calculus
- Partial differential equations
- Real analysis
- A comprehensive introduction to probability distributions and the ability to work with them
- Wide array of statistical and econometric techniques for empirical work
Frank Scioli, past Political Science Program Director at NSF, agrees, saying EITM will equip students with skills to conduct research that will answer questions and bring a new level of discourse.
“Students without these skills don’t know what they don’t know,” he said. “What’s unique about the UH program (there are two others) is that students prepare a presentation, many of which will lead to their Ph.D. dissertation, and get constructive suggestions from the scholars. Their schools don’t have scholars (familiar with EITM) at the helm to work with them.”
Scioli and Granato championed this agenda while with the NSF. The HCPP training institute will become an annual event.
“We’ll know this works because policymakers, for example, will seek out our students with these skills to know whether to promote, modify or cancel policies,” Scioli said. “They’ll have a blueprint that tells them if their policy is achieving its objective. The benefit ultimately is to the citizenry who pay for those policies.”