Lindsay Hiser
Lindsay Hiser

Lindsay Hiser, MPP Class of 2023, shares her coding journey at Harris.

As a Master of Public Policy (MPP) student at Harris, I have made data science and coding a key focus of my graduate education. The flexibility of the MPP degree has allowed me to declare a Certificate in Data Analytics, take relevant courses in departments across the University of Chicago, and gain research experience—all of which have expanded my understanding of how coding can be used in policy analysis. Although I came to Harris with no coding experience, I will be graduating with a robust new set of skills to employ in future jobs.  Harris offers myriad opportunities to build programming skills depending on your interests and professional goals. For prospective students who wish to pursue coding as a component of their Harris education, there are different ways to embed coding into your degree.

For those with little to no programming experience prior to beginning at Harris, the three-week Math & Coding Camp offered during Orientation is a chance to gain familiarity with coding concepts before beginning fall courses. Math & Coding Camp provided a low-stress environment for me to familiarize myself with coding software and begin practicing the most basic of coding concepts.

All students begin coding during their first year in the Core curriculum. Students are introduced to R, an open source statistical programming package, in the two-course Statistics for Data Analysis sequence. Students employ coding regularly during class discussions and in problem sets.

The Certificate in Data Analytics is a great choice if you want to deepen your programming skills beyond the Core. You'll choose a programming language—either R or Python,—in which you'll take the required foundational courses: Data and Programming for Public Policy I and II, and Machine Learning

Regardless of coding language, students are encouraged to build their coding skills to be transferable—that is, to use the knowledge of one programming language’s syntax and structure to solve the same problem in other languages. This aspect of the certificate coursework has especially resonated with me as I navigate a job market where different organizations value knowledge of different languages, depending on team or project.

In addition, many electives include programming components that offer new insights into the value of coding in policy analysis. As an MPP student, I took Program Evaluation (PPHA 34600) where I used R to analyze the outcomes of policy interventions. I’ve also found courses outside of Harris useful in building my coding experience. Courses in geospatial analysis (GEOG 38702) and data visualization (CAPP 30239) proved especially valuable in their use of programming software and languages not covered in the Harris curriculum.

Research assistantships can also offer students an opportunity to flex their coding skills in ongoing research projects conducted by university faculty. In my current research fellowship with the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, I regularly use the statistical programming methods I was introduced to in Program Evaluation. Applying course concepts in real-world research projects has reinforced my understanding and boosted my confidence in effectively using my coding skills beyond the classroom.

The flexibility of the two-year master’s degrees at Harris allows students to pursue a specific topic or method of policy analysis relevant to their career goals. For prospective students who wish to pursue a career in data science or policy analysis, Harris can offer opportunities to build your coding skills.

Harris also offers two programs that emphasize coding: the MS in Computational Analysis and Public Policy (MSCAPP) and the non-degree Data & Policy Summer Scholar Program.