Anna Weiss, DPSS’21, MPP Class of 2024, writes about what students can do with R Programming, a coding language for statistical analysis and data visualization, using our Harris Credential Programs, Policy Analytics Credential (PAC) and the Data and Policy Summer Scholar (DPSS) Program, as examples.

For an aspiring changemaker, the data is all around us—from wealth inequality to climate change; from housing insecurity to operations in need of improvement; there is so much work to be done. How do you investigate those needs? How do you communicate your findings? How do you advocate for the change you want to see? 

One invaluable skill in the pursuit of change is proficiency in R, a coding language for statistical analysis and data visualization. It may sound complicated or even daunting, but it is an incredible open source tool with tremendous impact. R turns social science data into usable statistics and data visualizations that change-makers can use to identify and  address policy issues.

I’ll answer your common questions about what you can do with R, which is taught in two of our Harris Credential Programs: Policy Analytics Credential (PAC) and the Data and Policy Summer Scholar (DPSS) Program

How can I use R in the workplace?

R is an immensely useful skill for: 

  • Manipulating large datasets,
  • Combining multiple datasets or locating precisely what you’re seeking in the dataset, without the tedium of Excel,
  • Creating dynamic data visualizations including geographic density maps, scatter plots, histograms, bar charts, box plots, and more, 
  • Reporting statistics on a consistent basis, such as with monthly grant reporting.

Many DPSS alumni have used their newfound R skills immediately in the workplace. For example, Jose Macias, DPSS’21, MPP Class of 2024, used R during his Public Policy Fellowship at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) in Washington, DC, when the large size of the datasets required a system at the caliber of RStudio. 

How can I use R in school or research? 

Many students find Harris’s Credential Programs are an excellent supplement to their ongoing studies and research. If you’re investigating a research question, R can help you find the answers. If you’re trying to communicate your findings, R can help you explain your hard work through visualizations. Just ask Funke Aderonmu, who completed PAC in 2022. Funke’s sharpened skills in R supplement her ongoing research in poverty alleviation, as she pursues her graduate degree at the Princeton University School of Public and International Affairs. 

How can I use R in a job interview or graduate school applications?

Whether you are looking to move up in your academic or professional career, proficiency in R can be an impressive asset. From policy memos to data visualizations to baseline calculations, showcasing your R skills will help you stand out from the application pool. Luckily, both DPSS and PAC students can create their own capstone or optional final project that can serve as a professional deliverable. If you’re submitting a writing sample or negotiating a raise with your boss, this deliverable can be invaluable. 

What if I have no experience in R before starting a Credential Program?

Like any coding language, R may present unique challenges for each student, but those challenges are not barriers. Creative and technical thinkers alike find their strengths in R, and the results are equally exciting. And there’s no need to tackle it alone! Every Harris Credential Program offers live academic support throughout each program, including faculty office hours, TA office hours, TA mini-lectures, and more to guide students to the success they seek. DPSS and DAC are part-time programs with full-time support from UChicago Harris. 

Start your data-driven journey with UChicago Harris.