Data Visualization and My Final Semester of Grad School

Since this is my first (publicly visible) post, I should introduce myself. I am a second-year graduate student in the VCU sociology department.  I am an in-person student on the thesis track, and also a teaching assistant for two of the professors in the department. I had originally planned to pursue a Ph.D. and become a professor, but after spending some close-up time with an academic department, I have decided that the life or a professor is not the life for me. After I graduate, I hope to find a job as a statistician, data manager, research methodologist, or any other job working with data, statistics, or research. These are not only my strengths, but also what I find most enjoyable and relaxing in the world of sociology, so a career in these areas would suit me well.

I chose to take a course in data visualization this semester with an eye to the future, specifically to my fast approaching career in statistics, data, and the nuts and bolts of sociological research. Studying data visualization will help me develop my skills in ‘speaking’ data and presenting and conceptualizing data for various audiences. I hope that these skills will improve my effectiveness in any of the occupations that I have listed above. I hope to get a broad understanding of various data visualization tools and build experience with both specific tools and with learning new tools generally. I also hope to develop my ability to advertise my skills through a digital portfolio.

I think that my introduction to the power of data visualization techniques was this well-known video:

I believe it was shown in an undergraduate sociology class that I took in spring 2014. I have relatively little experience with applied data visualization. The extent of my experience at the start of this semester is in using the data visualization tools in SPSS and Excel in the context of the roughly 7-to-9 undergraduate and graduate methodology and statistics classes that I have been either a student or a teaching assistant for.

Considering that I hope to tailor my work in this course to my research interests as much as possible, it would make sense to introduce my research interests now. [Very] broadly, I am interested in organizational power and inequality. As a sociologist, I am interested in the big three categories of social inequality and stratification: race, class, and gender. I have two primary research interests: patriarchy and sexual misconduct in higher education, and pornography.

The working title for my thesis is, “Campus Sexual Misconduct: Faculty as Perpetrators and Institutional Power.” I am using the Not A Fluke data set (Current N=600). It is a compilation of publicly available news articles documenting cases of faculty committing acts of sexual misconduct against students. I will be coding the data for statistical analysis and also incorporating publicly available data about institutional information and classification for the universities involved.

At this point in my education I have strong computer, statistics, and methodological skills, but little experience with data visualization tools, both in terms of what options are available and in terms of how to use them. I hope to expand my knowledge and expertise in data visualization to improve my skills as a sociologist for my entry into the job market this summer.

One thought on “Data Visualization and My Final Semester of Grad School”

  1. You might appreciate Gap Minder if you haven’t seen it. It’s a tool and there are also some pretty solid videos that are worth watching. It does a pretty good job of displaying a large variety of interrelated variables and allowing people to selectively pursue individual paths of inquiry within the larger context.

    Is that ‘Not a Fluke’ data available in a structured way or just that blog post? One of the things we can discuss in this class is both auto-scraping stuff like that to make it organized and to allow patterned harvesting. We can also discuss setting up scenarios where you would never end up that kind of semi-structured data. Reaching out to help that individual with a sustainable and structured workflow could also be worked in as a project for this class. While it’s not (expressed) data visualization it is a key part of making all this work together and maintaining your sanity which is pretty worthwhile.

    When you say strong computer skills what do you mean? I’ve seen that mean quite a spectrum of things. It doesn’t matter much but it would change whether I’d point you towards a programming language or toward something with more of a user interface– not that I won’t probably do both at different points.

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