FSD Bulletin

Issue 15 (3/2004)

ISSN 1795-5262

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FSD Bulletin is the electronic newsletter of the Finnish Social Science Data Archive. The Bulletin provides information and news related to the data archive and social science research.


Finnish Social Science Data Archive
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Attending ICPSR Summer Training Program in Ann Arbour, Michigan, US

Maria Suojanen 8.2.2005

Last summer I attended the ICPSR Summer Program in quantitative methods in Michigan (US), wishing to improve my knowledge of statistical methods and game theory. From the range of courses on offer, one can choose two four-week courses. I chose Introduction to Statistics and Data Analysis I, and Mathematical Models: Game Theory.

It turned out that I had been right in assuming that the first course would be easier for me and the second one would definitely be more of a challenge. My daily program included two hours of each course and additional 1-2 hours of mathematical lectures. All courses demanded a lot of work: reading and homework. It was certainly not difficult to figure out how to spend one's spare time!

Demanding game theory

The game theory course was meant for people with little prior knowledge on the subject. As the group was large, there were some students who were more knowledgeable than others and did not hesitate to show it. The professor in charge of the course chose to adapt his teaching to their level. Every other day we received a demanding homework assignment, which took at maximum four hours. Long hours of frustration, trying to finish the assignment, were due to the fact that the methodology connected to the assignment was taught only the following day.

The professor probably received rather critical feedback after the course. Maybe next year there will be two game theory courses, one for beginners and another for more advanced students, as the subject seemed to be of interest to social scientists.

Insights into statistics

In the statistics and data analysis course we had a very experienced teacher, who had been teaching for several years in the ICPSR Summer Program and dozens of years otherwise. His teaching style was unique, and even the not-so-interesting statistical concepts suddenly appeared in a new light. Though I had studied statistical methods at my home university and had used them in my work, many of the basic concepts and especially the logic behind them were still not quite clear to me, but they certainly became clear during this course.

There was an interim exam and a final exam, and postgraduates of statistics working as assistant teachers helped us to prepare for them. We were allowed to bring one A4 "crib sheet" to the exam, with hand-written formulas, instructions and examples. However, doing is learning, and the writing my "crib-sheet" was at the same time a learning process, and in the end I had very little need of the sheet in the exam.

Extra-curriculum activities

The course organisers arranged a reception during the first week and a few picnics, but otherwise there were no extra-curriculum activities, and it was not easy to get to know other students except those attending the same courses. I stayed in a co-operative house with nine other students, who were either local or attending the summer program. Living in an old run-down wooden house felt like living the life of an authentic American student, even though some air-conditioning and less accumulated grime would have been greatly appreciated.

Ann Arbour is an interesting little town, and is near to some beautiful beaches and some bigger towns like Detroit and Chicago (a few hours away). So there is plenty to do even on the weekends. Hiring a car is a good idea, since public transport is not that frequent or extensive.

The writer is a PhD student, member of Models of Political Institutions research group, and a Research Associate in the Department of Political Sciences at the University of Turku.