Thesis no longer required for QSS major

by Claudia Bernstein | 5/29/18 2:55am

Future quantitative social science majors will no longer be required to complete a thesis before graduating. This spring, the College’s QSS program updated its major requirements, adding a non-honors track that will be available to the Class of 2019 and later.

Instead of requiring all graduating QSS majors to participate in a three-term culminating honors research thesis in their senior year, students can now opt to complete a one-term intensive research project instead, QSS program chair and government professor Michael Herron said.

According to QSS steering committee member and government professor John Carey, the steering committee made the decision this spring to offer the one-term intensive research project as a non-honors major track. As of this year, the one-term intensive research project was only available to QSS minors as their required culminating research, typically during their winter terms, Carey said.

“Most of the minors completed their one-term projects over winter term, and a lot of them were really outstanding,” Carey said. “It increased [the QSS faculty’s] appreciation for the potential of the one-term project because students were getting a lot out of them.”

In addition to the success of the one-term project completed by minors, the growing number of students who pursue the QSS major has encouraged the steering committee to consider updating the major, Carey said. He noted that these efforts are part of an attempt to accommodate the growth of the program and make the major more accessible.

“The ‘one size fits all’ model is not necessarily the right approach to structuring the major, so we decided to make this option available,” Carey said. “Part of it is that there are so many more students [who] want to pursue QSS and not all of them want to do it exactly the same way.”

Herron emphasized the importance of research in the QSS program and the program’s continued commitment to best assisting students in pursuing research.

“The thesis model just didn’t fit everyone,” Herron said. “Some projects are better suited to 10 intensive weeks.”

The QSS program officially began in July 2015. The program was originally called Mathematical Social Sciences and existed at Dartmouth for several years, but was incredibly small, with only one to two MSS majors per class, Herron said. He added that the 2015 transition included renaming Mathematical Social Sciences to Quantitative Social Sciences, restructuring the curriculum to include more disciplines and generating a QSS minor option.

There are 12 graduating QSS majors in the Class of 2018 and 31 projected QSS majors in the Class of 2019, according to Herron.

The increase in popularity in the program is evident, QSS major Anna Kawata ’19 said.

“When I was a freshman and sophomore, most people had never heard of QSS, but now I meet a lot of [members of the Class of 2021] who are considering the major, and mostly everyone has heard of QSS,” Kawata said.

Another QSS major, Kira Gallancy ’19, said that she has elected the one-term project for her culminating research.

“I think it’s a really good change because I know so many people who were deterred from majoring in QSS because of the required thesis,” Gallancy said. “I think it will increase the popularity of the major, which is already growing.”

According to Carey, the increase in the popularity of QSS results from the increasing relevance of data analysis in the real world.

“In the last 15 to 20 years in particular, there’s been an explosion in the use of quantitative analysis in a lot of social sciences,” Carey said. “Traditionally, I think people think of economics as the most quantitative social science, but in political science, sociology, anthropology, history and geography, you’re starting to see an explosion in the use of these methods. Partially because there’s so much more data available in convenient formats, we’re generating data at a rate exponentially greater than 10 years ago.”

Students increasingly pursue the QSS major because of both its interdisciplinary nature and its emphasis on data analysis methods, Herron said.

“A lot of students will double major­ — sociology and QSS or history and QSS — to cultivate this additional skill, partly because of the professional opportunities,” Carey said. “If you have certain expertise but you can also crunch numbers, you will become very valuable to employers right off the bat.”

Kawata said she chose to major in QSS because of the usefulness of the skills taught in the program.

“I really felt like I found what I like in QSS: the hybrid of my interests as well as looking ahead to recruiting and the future,” she said. “I really liked the data analysis portion of it. It’s the kind of knowledge I can use.”