The PKU-UChicago International Policy Action Lab (IPAL) gives students a foundation in policy analysis and coding with a space to apply their skills in a capstone research project.  

We spoke with three participants of the 2021 program, Jiakai Chen, Jiachen Shi, and Ziyao Wang, to learn about their academic experiences and application of the knowledge they learned to their education and careers since the program. 

What was one key learning you gained in IPAL?

Jiakai Chen: I gained a deeper understanding of quantitative analysis. There is no doubt that quantitative analysis has become a necessary skill for social science learners in this era. On the one hand, IPAL allowed us to improve our quantitative analysis capabilities, especially in terms of tools and logic. On the other hand, it emphasized the wide application and practical significance of quantitative analysis in policy and social analysis.

Jiachen Shi: I gained a systemic yet diverse structure of commonly used quantitative methodologies. I not only have an understanding of how quantitative methodology works in a broader manner, but also how I apply the skills in topics that I am interested in.

How have you used or applied the IPAL skills in your current pursuits?

Jiakai Chen: I’ve applied some quantitative methods to the scientific research projects that I’m working on during my undergraduate studies. IPAL taught me how to code in R Studio— a very practical and convenient tool for analyzing data. The learning experience of IPAL enabled me to take on and master additional programming languages such as  STATA, which made my analysis process more efficient.

Jiachen Shi: I adopted quantitative methodology for my dissertation in my master’s program. Instrumental variable (IV) is the major technique I use, which is also something I learned from IPAL that I find extremely intriguing and powerful.

Ziyao Wang: I’m currently working in machine companies, which allows me to use data analysis on a regular basis. Before IPAL, our company did a lot of guessing—we asked our dealers how much product they and their users made to get a sense of how many machines to produce the next year. With my new IPAL tools, I can put everything into one program, get a great figure, and say “here is how we can forecast our products and our sales next year based on all the information we have.”

How would you describe the virtual learning environment?

Jiakai Chen: We had faculty, teaching assistants, and classmates to create a good learning environment. Faculty paid attention to the classroom interaction during the live lectures, which greatly enhanced participation. Teaching assistants gave timely answers to our questions. For classmates, the fun, small-group activities in orientation allowed us to find many students who have similar interests and can help each other during the learning process.

Ziyao Wang: I was originally worried about the level of interaction with an online program, but IPAL offers a lot of interactions. Aside from all the academic resources, the program administrators hosted several fun social gatherings, where we talked about everything from  the class to future career goals, and more. There were also a few activities held in-person in Beijing.