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Linköping University: Unleashing a new generation of computational social science professionals

computational social sciences
Linköping University

Technological developments are occurring at an accelerated pace, bringing ‘disruptive’ technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics into the mainstream. As they become increasingly integrated into our daily lives, their use will leave a trail of data regarding our social behaviour.

Detailed social data, be it about our choices, affiliations or preferences, are digitally archived by private sectors, the government and the like. However, the ability to extract, analyse and apply such data is not only a crucial foundation in improving business decision-making, but is also essential in creating positive social change in society.

Similarly, graduates or professionals keen on carving themselves a career that helps them make positive contributions to society will need the tools to do so. Linköping University’s (LiU) MSc in Computational Social Science prepares graduates to harness complex data and advanced computational tools and apply them to address important social questions for society’s changing needs.

MSc Computational Social Science – a unique offering

LiU’s full-time MSc in Computational Social Science merges several disciplines, namely social science, data science and computer science, allowing students to draw inferences about micro-level behaviours and macro-level outcomes by the end of the course.

Students will learn to use statistical and computational methods to understand society and human behaviour. This is in addition to theoretical and substantive training, learn the principles of social inquiry and theories of human behaviour and apply these technical skills to pressing social issues such as ethnic segregation in schools, income inequality, entrepreneurship, political change and cultural diffusion.

The mode of instruction for the MSc in Computational Social Science is English, with teaching taking place at the Norrköping Campus, located a mere two-hour drive from the capital of Stockholm.

Meanwhile, LiU prides itself on addressing and improving the needs of society through its master’s programmes. Further extolling on this point is Benjamin Jarvis, senior lecturer at LiU’s Institute for Analytical Sociology (IAS), who explained that it’s important for the university to cultivate students who will be agents for positive change in the social contexts of their careers.

Benjamin Jarvis. Linköping University

“Our programme empowers students to affect positive change not only by giving them the computational tools needed to analyse social data, but also the social scientific theoretical frameworks to make sense of their analyses and devise effective and responsible interventions,” he said. This is done by employing practicing social scientists as the programme’s primary instructors.

Best practices to improve graduate career-readiness

To ensure graduates are career-ready, Jarvis explained that the MSc in Computational Social Science provides students with practical training in conducting social science research, a class of research that’s employed across academic, for profit, not-for-profit and governmental domains.

Students are guided through all the necessary steps of social research, including comprehending and synthesising existing research, composing relevant research questions, selecting appropriate research designs and implementing and executing those research designs. Meanwhile, technical courses make use of computer laboratories, using real world data to train students in techniques that are applied to solving real-world problems.

Students also have the chance to engage in research projects led by scholars at the IAS, learning how to engage with contemporary social research, as well as how to justify and motivate their own research with respect to existing empirical knowledge and theoretical models. These skills are key to affecting positive change, which requires enlisting the expertise and support of diverse stakeholders, who often need to know not just what to do, but also why what they’re doing is important and appropriate.

Preparing graduates for the new world of work

Second year MSc Computational Social Science student Ying Xu, an engineering graduate from China, was drawn to the programme, believing it would equip her with skills for the future. “I believe that data analysis is a good skill to invest in. You’ll gain valuable experience in collecting data, identifying patterns, choosing models and estimating the effect of different variables,” said the Chinese national.

Ying Xu. Linköping University

“MSc Computational Social Science graduates who don’t want a career in academia will still find their skills useful in companies that need to transfer customer demands into computational solutions,” adds Xu. “For example, some companies have huge amounts of data but don’t know how to use them. We could see things in a creative way and create value for them based on the data they have.”

As an engineering graduate, Xu struggled with her critical thinking skills, which is essential in the programme. After her first year, she improved and developed the confidence to discuss her ideas in class, and benefited from seeing things from multiple viewpoints.

One concern that affects many international students is adjusting to life abroad. However, Xu found that Sweden’s education system grants students a second chance at passing their course, while the system focuses on learning, rather than competing with classmates.

Without a doubt, LiU’s MSc in Computational Social Science draws on industry best practices to not only ensure students’ future success, but inspire them to contribute to social change positively.

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