WWS Blog

For the Qualitatively Inclined

Apr 7, 2014
Published by:
Dan Edelman, MPA '15

I’m not the most quantitatively inclined person. I took only one economics class in college and was just a few courses shy of a quadruple major in Sociology, Spanish, Black Studies and History. After college, I taught social studies and coached soccer at a high school in Mississippi and then worked at a food pantry in East Harlem. One of the more surprising aspects of coming to Princeton was that I wasn’t alone in the lack of quantitative experience.

Don’t get me wrong, I listen to economics podcasts and occasionally read Wonkblog and the Economix blog on The New York Times’ website. I was good at math in high school, but simply didn’t prioritize taking any related courses in college (oh my youthful naiveté).

Make no mistake, the Master in Public Affairs program is quant-heavy. Fortunately, the Woodrow Wilson School offers a track for people like me: B-track! In our core statistics, econometrics and micro and macroeconomic courses, the B-level courses target those of us without a strong quantitative background. The micro and macro courses each approximate two semesters of undergrad-level coursework. Only halfway through our econometrics class, I’m now fairly competent at conducting statistical analysis in Stata and now feel far more qualified to consume and critique research performed by more serious scholars.

Surprisingly, I’ve enjoyed these classes. They have given me a stronger framework in which to orient my opinions on the antipoverty policies and programming that most interest me. While some of the problem sets have been quite challenging, professors encourage (and sometimes enforce) working in groups. Puzzling through micro homework with friends made for some great bonding experiences.

Less than a year ago, I couldn’t imagine ever being confident enough to offer my own ideas on what a set of data said about a particular policy. I’m now preparing to go and do exactly that this coming summer, and I feel ready.



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