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CSSS Offers Math Camp for UW Grad Students in Social Sciences to Sharpen Skills for Quantitative Work

Matrix algebra. Derivatives. Writing code and making tables in R. For many graduate students in social sciences, especially those returning to college after some years away, the more quantitative aspects of research can feel daunting. Some methods and coursework may even feel out of reach.

A free, one-week intensive Math Camp for graduate students in the social sciences, offered just before the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year, will help incoming and continuing students develop skills and confidence before taking courses that require advanced math. Math Camp, which is sponsored by the Center for Statistics and the Social Sciences, is specifically designed to provide preparation for CSSS courses. Students will review basic math, preview more advanced math, and begin working with the statistical coding language R, all in a supportive environment that focuses on social science applications.

“Grad students come with a range of mathematical backgrounds,” said Elena Erosheva, PhD, the director of the Center for Statistics and the Social Sciences, which provides the annual class. “Some of them are really good at math and others have always been afraid of math. They would like to be able to do some interesting quantitative work, but they need help to get started.”

Two advanced PhD students from the University of Washington Department of Statistics, Jess Kunke and Erin Lipman will teach the course and will be on hand to help students work through problems.

The camp's goal is not to deliver an entire math education over five five-hour days, the teachers said. Rather, it is meant to demystify some math and help social science students bring their math and coding skills to a level that equips them to thrive in applied statistics courses necessary for their research.

“It’s like a springboard,” Kunke said. “We give students the concepts so that when they hear them in class they don’t shut down. They can say, ‘I’ve computed some confidence intervals. I’ve computed some derivatives.’”

The five days of Math Camp are divided into morning and afternoon sessions. The morning sessions are for math, and the afternoon sessions are dedicated to learning the basics of R. The classes start at a very basic level, said the teachers, both of whom taught the class last year as well.

“We start out going through real numbers, integers, and how we solve an equation,” Lipman said.

Subsequent days are focused on matrices and matrix algebra, derivatives, integrals, and introduction to probabilities. The lecture slides will be available to students for future review.

The afternoon sessions are a great way to begin learning R for social science work, Kunke said, because although R can be used for a massive array of applications, the focus during Math Camp is on the things social scientists are mostly likely to find useful.

No previous coding experience is required or assumed.

“Generally, people come in with no experience with coding,” Kunke said. “We explain everything along the way. We’ll code stuff together and talk through each thing. People will be making tables, summaries, writing files, and generating reports that include tables, figures, and data.”

Lipman said that part of the fun of teaching the class is seeing people do more than they thought they were capable of.

“We see that sense of excitement, of people saying, ‘Wow I did it, it worked. I took seven tries, but now I can make a plot,’” she said.

In 2023, the Math Camp will take place September 11-16 at the Evans School of Public Policy in the newly renovated Parrington Hall. Registration will remain open until the class is full or September 1. For a sample syllabus, click here. For FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions), click here. To register, click here




Math Camp instructors Jess Kunke and Erin Lipman