Monday, 5 June 2017

Quantitative social science? Find out more…

If you’re thinking about taking a social science degree course, you might be interested to know that there are some specialist programmes which combine social science and quantitative skills.

So, what are quantitative skills, and what’s different about these courses? We asked Dr Simon Gallacher, Head of Student Programmes at the Nuffield Foundation.

What are quantitative skills?
‘Put simply, these give you the ability to handle data and use numerical evidence –  essentially, how to design and undertake your own research using data to help you get to the heart of challenging questions. This means you can design surveys and experiments, then analyse and interpret different types of data, and learn how best to use this evidence to make decisions. The key thing is, it’s using data which can help us answer some important questions.’

So, can you tell us more about the social science and quantitative skills degrees?
‘They’re called Q-Step degrees and are a new kind of social science degree that enable you to ask the important questions about society, why people behave as they do, and give you the necessary skills to answer them.’

So, social scientists are interested in finding the answers to questions such as:

  • why does life expectancy vary depending on where you live?
  • why do opinion polls sometimes get it wrong?
  • what is the link between family background and educational attainment?

You can study for a Q-Step degree at 18 leading universities across the UK, in social science subjects ranging from area studies, to political science, to sociology. All these degrees include developing your quantitative skills – in other words, your ability to handle data and use numerical evidence. These skills are invaluable in today’s job market.

What will I learn? 
Courses vary depending on the subject and university, but on a Q-Step degree programme, you could learn how to:

  • design surveys and experiments – essentially, how to design and undertake your own research
  • analyse and interpret different types of data, such as social media data, survey data, government data, and longitudinal data
  • evaluate the quality of data and analysis, and learn how best to use evidence to make decisions

Many Q-Step degrees offer work placements, which will enable you to gain experience of using data to answer big questions about people, their behaviour, and the circumstances in which they live. A range of employers offer placements, from think tanks, to marketing agencies, and research institutes. Q-Step students make a positive difference to the work of their host employers, including authoring published reports, presenting to international audiences, and even giving evidence to parliamentary committees.

What do Q-Step students say?
‘My Q-Step internship at Ipsos Mori gave me the opportunity to apply and develop the knowledge I had gained in the first two years of my degree. I then embarked on a quantitative dissertation in my third year. My Q-Step experiences were a huge contributing factor in my selection for a graduate role at [leading professional services firm] PwC.’
Amy Abbate, Q-Step graduate

‘The focus on quantitative methods allows you to start a different conversation with employers – one about politics as an exciting, forward-thinking, and data-driven degree. As a student competing to get a job at a top company, it has really helped me stand out from other applicants and to secure my position as Marketing Executive for [customer acquisitions company] MVF Global.’
James Potter, Q-Step graduate

Where can I find out more?
Firstly, visit the student pages on the Nuffield Foundation website. Then you might want to download the Q-Step prospectus featuring details of all Q-Step degree programmes across the UK. After that, check out the course descriptions at the individual universities, and perhaps register for an open day to help you get a better understanding of what would be involved.


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