Stress-Free Statistics

Stress-Free Statistics

Professor Interview
  • Summer School course, Summer 2016 (photo: Manuel Braun)Summer School course, Summer 2016 (photo: Manuel Braun)

Jan Rovny will teach the optional elective courseIntroduction to Quantitative Analysis: Stress-Free Stats” during the July session of the University Programme. Optional elective courses are open to students in both the social sciences and French language track. He also teaches in the course “The European Union at a Crossroads,” offered during the July session of the programme.

Download the course overview for “Introduction to Quantitative Analysis: Stress-Free Stats” (PDF, 278 Ko).

Jan Rovny is an assistant professor at Sciences Po at the Center for European Studies (CEE) and the Interdisciplinary Research Center for the Evaluation of Public Policies (LIEPP).  He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is also graduate of McGill University (BA) and the College of Europe (MA).  He has previously taught in the United States, the Czech Republic, Germany and Sweden.  His research concentrates on political competition in Europe with the aim of uncovering the ideological conflict lines in different countries.  He is also one of the principal researchers of the Chapel Hill Expert Survey on party positioning -- the most comprehensive survey assessing ideological placements of political parties in Europe.

Your research focuses on political competition in Europe and you teach in the course "The European Union at a Crossroads" at the Summer School.  Why did you also want to teach a course on statistics and quantitative methods?

I believe that university education should first and foremost give students skills, diverse and rounded, but practically applicable. Statistics and quantitative methods give students very useful tools that aid not only practical work with data, but also thinking about analytical problems of all kinds. I believe that not just social scientists, but all people, could benefit from some basic understanding of data analysis. This is increasingly important as more and more data is collected, analyzed and presented to us by governments, firms and the media.

The class is called "Introduction to Quantitative Analysis: Stress-Free Stats."  How do you approach the topic differently than a normal introductory statistics class?

First, I realize that most social science students are not confident math users. I focus primarily on explaining all concepts in clear, common language, and in diverse ways. I use math formulas, but I explain them clearly and simply. I draw a lot of pictures, and at times I even dance. Second, I listen, and I make it clear that there are no bad questions. It is not unusual in my class to repeat certain explanations two or three times until everyone in class is comfortable with what is going on.

What is the most important thing students will learn in your class?

Most importantly, students will gain confidence that, no matter their background and incoming knowledge, they too can do quantitative analyses and programming! Specifically, students will learn how to work with diverse datasets, and how to answer relevant social scientific questions through programming.

Students at the Summer School come from a variety of academic backgrounds.  How will the material be useful for students from different backgrounds and disciplines?

This course broadens the horizons of anyone interested in social issues. If you look at any newspaper today, and pay attention to it, you will be struck by how much (quantitative) data is being presented in various figures, tables or text. Being able to critically read these is a useful skill for every citizen. Being able to produce them is a skill that will greatly increase your employability chances in many different areas and sectors.

Outside the classroom, what's one thing you recommend students do to take advantage of their summer in Paris?

It’s Paris! Go sit by the Seine, and read some poetry. Go to the museums — my favorite are l’Orangerie and Marmottan. And finally, go out and eat well.

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