Ding wants to learn how to predict the outcome of political campaigns more accurately.
Yi Ding, MACRM Class of 2019
Yi Ding, MACRM Class of 2019

Yi Ding, Class of 2019, has a BS degree in statistics from Shanghai University of Finance and Economics — and he also has a highly developed interest in the role that data plays in American politics. To enhance his ability to predict and analyze the results statistics play in elections and other applications, Ding came to the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy in pursuit of a MACRM degree, which combines a master’s in public policy and a certificate in research methods. 

“I have long been attracted to the University of Chicago’s academic culture and intellectualism,” Ding explains, “and felt that Harris’ MACRM would give me a foundation in politics and economics that I lack as a statistics major. In addition, it offers me a high level of faculty mentorship, as well as opportunities for research apprenticeships.” 

Designed especially for public policy students who want to do serious research or go on to pursue a PhD, the degree provides one-on-one faculty mentoring and real-time experience in research and quantitative methods as part of the curriculum. Although Ding is still undecided about his career goals, he feels strongly that the MACRM degree will give him innovative professional skill sets that are unavailable at any other school.

Growing up in China, Ding always felt a sense of personal fulfillment from education. Money was neither an issue nor a personal goal for him. Instead, Ding wanted to do something that would have a positive impact on the world around him.

Although he initially considered majoring in sociology for his undergraduate degree, Ding’s eventual academic choice, statistics, centered on mathematical subjects. Yet his interest in public policy and social causes remains. For example, since 2015 he has volunteered as a guide at the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum. And as an undergraduate, he provided peer education to promote gender equality and LGBTQ inclusiveness on campus.

“I’ve been excited since high school about politics and public policy and how they can make life better for society,” Ding says. “Because of this interest, as a statistics major I participated in multiple data-science projects in college, including building election prediction models.” 

Ding has long taken a special interest in the politics of the United States, and he spent his junior year in college as a visiting international student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2016. His research projects included establishing a regression model to predict election results from county-based American Community Survey data and the results of two past U.S. elections. 

In 2017, he was the team leader on a class project that explored the causes of variations on voter turnout in the United States. The team found that age, marital status, education level, and location were the primary factors affecting voter turnout. They also discovered that location was a significant factor in the disparity between self-reported and actual regional turnout rate.

It was primarily this experience at UW-Madison that led him to consider going to Harris. “Although I was well-versed in a technical approach to these projects,” Ding explains, “I realized that rigorous theoretical training would enable me to better leverage gathered data.”

He was particularly impressed that Harris made a point of reaching out to Chinese students. “The fact that Harris held an information session in my city, Shanghai, made its recruitment process far superior to that of other schools,” Ding says. “None of the other programs or institutions I applied to did this.

“The information available on the Harris website is also unprecedented,” Ding says. “Student and alumni profiles, faculty blogs, and a host of webinars provide a wealth of information that usually is only available through extra effort or even a campus visit on the part of the student. Harris made it easy.”

Finally, there was the MACRM degree itself that convinced him to come to Harris. "I regard a concerned faculty advisor as possibly the most valuable asset a student who wants to do serious research can get from a university,” Ding says. “As a MACRM student at Harris, I’ll have advisors who will mentor me in politics and economics in ways that will expand and support my knowledge of statistics and data.” 

Harris offers Ding opportunities for research apprenticeships, in addition to the option of applying for a PhD. “All of this made me decide on Harris the moment that I learned my application had been accepted,” Ding says.   

The future holds many possibilities for Ding. “I picture myself doing research on campaigns, elections, or survey methods after graduation,” he says. “Or perhaps I’ll work in a think tank or a research institute. Right now, I have not yet decided on whether to go for a PhD. But I’m sure my time at Harris will help me make the right decision.”