A week today sees the biggest SAGE Ocean event to date as we takeover the RocketSpace Theatre to bring you an exciting evening of drinks and discussions around diversity and gender equality in academia and in particularly, social data science. Sorry to all those people scattered further afield in the UK who can’t make it to London but fear not, we will be filming the event and the recording will be available later in the year.
We thought it would be good for you to get to know a little more about our panel ahead of the event so we caught up with them to see what podcasts they rate, what books they’ve been reading and what advice they’d give to young social science students.
Giselle Cory, DataKind
Milena Tsvetkova, London School of Economics
Chanuki Seresinhe, Popsa, Alan Turing Institute
James Allen-Robertson, University of Essex
Not got a ticket? There is still time to sign up
Do you have any advice for students looking at starting a career in social science?
Milena: My advice it to focus equally on social theory and methods. You can narrow down your focus on one of them but then you should expand your coverage for the other one. Some of the most brilliant research in social science comes from either applying an established method to a new problem or applying a new method to an old problem. As an example of the first, think about what Gary Becker and other economists have contributed to areas traditionally covered by sociologists and demographers – marriage, childbirth, the division of household labor, etc. As an example of the second case, think about what computational social science is trying to achieve now with the power of newer methods such as network analysis, text analysis, and machine learning.
James: If you have an interest in it, learning computational methods will certainly set you apart on the job market, but it’s in no way a necessity! I always followed what interested me, rather than what I felt I should be paying attention to. There are so many social issues worthy of our attention, but we all have to accept that we're not going to be able to study all of them. So study what fascinates you, study what you would be obsessing over whether you were going into social science or not. People can tell when you’re appropriately obsessed about a topic, and in social science that obsession is a good thing.
Angela Saini (author of Superior) recently dropped by our office to talk to our team. Are there any particular books you’d recommend?
James: For computational social science I found the book Doing Data Science by Cathy O’Neil & Rachel Schutt a really accessible introduction to the whole area, particularly for someone not formally trained in the field.
For more tech and society stuff, I really enjoyed reading David Golumbia’s book The Politics of Bitcoin: Software as Right-Wing Extremism. It’s a well written warning about how cyberculture can easily be translated into far-right narratives, and the role of conspiracy theories within crypto culture.
Chanuki: A classic one is Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow which explains the two systems (one fast and intuitive and one slow and logical) which shape our decision making and how we react to the things around us.
Milena: The last good popular science books I read and would highly recommend are Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil and The Broken Ladder by Keith Payne.
Chanuki, you kindly took part in our speaker series earlier this year (you can watch the video here), to talk about your recent work exploring if happiness is great in more scenic locations. What are some of your favorite spots in London?
Chanuki: I really love what they have done in the Kings Cross area. I love sitting by the canal next to Granary Square on sunny days eating delicious food from the street food markets as well as enjoying all the beautiful architecture in the area like Coal Drop Yards by Thomas Heatherwick. It always lifts my mood!
Milena: This may sound nerdy but my favorite spot is a public library – it is the last remaining public space where we are all welcome and we are not expected to consume! I frequent the Chelsea public library because I happen to be in the area on Sunday afternoons and I would also recommend the Wellcome Collection Reading Room.
James: I am a provincial child, London excites and frightens me in equal measure. I’m not there often.
Is there a particular podcast you find yourself returning to?
Milena: I regularly listen to the Science, Nature, Freakonomics, and the TED Radio Hour podcasts. I have found the Freakonomics podcast particularly engaging and useful, not only professionally, for my work in social science, but also personally, for important life decisions related to, for example, investment and education.
James: There are too many! Literally, I find it difficult to keep up with new episodes given the number of feeds I’m following. I’ll highlight just a couple though. “The Stakes” is a great podcast about Social Change, how it happens, and the consequences of it. Their mini-series on the History of Persuasion was fantastic, linking together the early days of persuasive psychology, the Unabomber and contemporary persuasive tech from Silicon Valley.
I also really enjoy Love + Radio. Each episode gives you these amazing insights into the lives of very different people and really opens your eyes to truly how diverse people’s lives are in a really respectful way. They are always a slow burn going from the seemingly mundane to slowly revealing the fantastic human experience behind it all.
Chanuki: There are so many good podcasts out there. I agree with Milena about TED Radio and Freakonomics as I often listen to them too. I also like Hidden Brain - which talks about unconscious patterns that drive our behavior and choices. A perhaps less known one for the social science audience is 99% Invisible - which has lovely stories about architecture and design decisions that shape our lives without us normally ever noticing them.
Do you listen to music when working? If so, what’s your go to track(s) to get you in the zone?
Chanuki: I love listening to minimalist techno which I can imagine isn’t everyone’s cup of tea - but I love the melodic nature of the songs and they really help me focus. Here is the link to my spotify playlist. If you want to give it a try. It features songs from Max Cooper, Nils Frahm and Kollectiv Turmstrasse.
James: Everyone should go to mynoise.net and use their noise generators. I have written almost everything I’ve ever done to the sound of rain pattering down onto my tent. Without those noise generators I would have to get a real tent.
Milena: Unfortunately, good music distracts me from what I am doing so I prefer to work in silence, if this is even possible in London.
Any there any projects or social science researchers that you want to highlight because of the great job they’re currently doing?
Milena: I am a big fan of Ridhi Kashyap’s (University of Oxford) work on using digital methods and online data to study demographic problems and Aniko Hannak’s (Vienna University of Economics and Business) research on inequality and discrimination in online labor markets with algorithmic auditing.
James: I think disinformation is a major issue that we are facing, and often work around this area is done by people outside the more traditional academy setting. Erin Gallagher is constantly pushing out great timely work analyzing bots and fake accounts on social media. You can find her on Twitter @3r1nG.
Chanuki: I really admire what Kirstie Whitaker is doing to promote reproducible research. It is so important, especially in areas like the social sciences where our research can impact millions of people's lives, to ensure our work is easily replicable by others. Keep an eye out for the Turing Way book on reproducible data science which will be coming out soon.
Thanks to Milena, James and Chanuki. Don’t forget, our event will also feature Giselle Cory from DataKind. Why not come and join us for a drink and hear more from our wonderful panel.