When I mention that I’m taking classes in the QAC department, I’m often met with blinking eyes and blank stares. Few people know what it is, or if they do they ask something along the lines of: “Oh, that <em>data</em> thing?” They say data like it’s some sort of disease that is not understandable or conquerable.
Data is far from a disease, but it <em>is</em> capable of spreading everywhere. Data are not static numbers on a screen; data are what is behind your favorite <em>New York Times</em> article. Data is extremely customizable and manipulatable and, most importantly, for everyone.
Despite those who have never heard of the QAC before, the department has been running at Wesleyan for years, and many now graduated students stumbled their way into their first QAC class only to leave with a career in data analysis. One of those students is Dana Louie ’14, who I had the pleasure of chatting to when she came to campus to give an info session for Analysis Group, the firm she works for. Dana’s discovery of the QAC happened through the QAC summer program, where she took classes in morning and then worked on research with professor in the afternoon. The following year, she was selected to be QAC tutor, and her fate in the department was sealed.
“People can succeed [in QAC classes] even with no background,” Dana said confidently, referring to the fear that keeps a lot of students from getting off the bench and entering the world of the QAC. When talking with my friends about by own experiences in the QAC, they often say something along the lines of “Wow, that sounds really cool. I wish I could do that.” I always respond with “You can,” just as Dana as saying. There are many intro classes in the QAC (QAC201, QAC211), and many chances to start to learn one of the programming languages.
Dana went on to mention many other great aspects that students get access to within the department: The QAC program excels in giving students coding experience, opportunities to do hands on research, and (the big one!) projects that overlap with other departments. In other words, the QAC gives students skills that makes them very hireable.
“Data analysis is very relevant right now, as this is an age of big data. I think a lot people recognize that.” I agree with Dana, but also think that this awareness needs to continue to grow at Wesleyan, so that the proportion of data-enthusiasts within our academic community isn’t so off from that in the job world.
“More disciplines should be encouraging of interactions with empirical data and research,” Dana said confidently. “Maybe another way to expand the audience is to have more professors in other subjects be aware,” she added, referring to the QAC’s goal to serve as a collaborative effort between departments. In order for that to be fully fulfilled, more professors besides those within the QAC must be aware and encouraging of students like Dana, who have interests that could be complemented by quantitative analysis. Many majors require courses that introduce analysis or empirical observations, but this could easily grow from a class that must be checked off the list to a skill that is the reason a student is able to secure a job in that field. “Empirical research shouldn’t be thought of as scary,” Dana said after I asked if she thought a fear of in-depth messy research was holding people back. “Maybe Manolis [Emmanuel Kaparakis, Professor in the QAC] could teach a quick class on it to spread the word.” (Hear that, Manolis?)
At the end of the day, it is clear that there is so much potential for data analysis as a way to approach research and informational work to spread across disciplines, breaking down barriers to give more people the chance to explore it without being afraid. And then, who knows, that skill could be the thing that allows a person to make their passion marketable. It will no longer be “that <em>data </em>thing,” but that thing that gets someone the job.
“QAC has a great alumni base in quantitative firms,” she said, referring to the wide-standing community of data enthusiasts out in the job world. Dana has experienced the power of this first hand with her transition to working with Analysis Group, and her path is one that many other students from her year have taken, as well as one that is a possibility for many students graduating this year and beyond. Whether you haven’t heard of the QAC before, heard of it but feel as though it’s too scientific for you, or have been taking classes there since freshman year, one thing is clear: Don’t count data out.