doing things with bags-of-words

The following is a guest post by Juan Pablo Pardo-Guerra.

Topic models are fast emerging as a workhorse of computational social science. Since their introduction in the late 1990s as part of a larger family of classification and indexing algorithms, they have grown into one of the most common and convenient means for automated text analysis. Not too long ago, using topic methods confronted scholars unfamiliar with programming with steep learning curves: even the simplest implementations required some familiarity with coding in addition to a good deal of patience. Today, by contrast, topic modeling is available as part of point-and-click desktop applications (e.g. Context) and can be installed in widely used statistical analysis packages (e.g. Stata). The relative ease, scalability, and intelligibility of topic models explains, perhaps, their quick adoption across sociology, political science, and the digital humanities. Indeed, to say that topic models are the OLS of text analysis wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration.

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what i’ve learned: three years on asa council

From 2016-2019 I had two positions that have taught me a lot about academic leadership and organizations. I led the process of redeveloping UNC’s General Education curriculum, “IDEAs in Action,” which was approved in April 2019; and I sat on the American Sociological Association’s (ASA) elected Council. These two blog posts are intended to explain some of the things I’ve learned from both of these experiences.

This post will deal with what I’ve learned from three years serving on the ASA council. The previous post dealt with my role leading UNC’s general education curriculum redesign.

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blueprint for what?

[Content notice: discussion of rape, genocide]

Last spring, Nicholas Christakis published his latest book, Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society. The title already sets the stage for some old-fashioned biological determinism.1 For anyone familiar with evolutionary psychology, it is 520 pages of mostly the same claims, logic, and citations as any other recent evopsych writing aimed at a general public readership. He’s a fan of Steven Pinker’s theses in Enlightenment Now and Blank Slate, and Pinker’s endorsement is prominent on the front cover of Blueprint. For those unfamiliar, the field is riven with “just-so stories,” or simplistic, largely unverifiable assertions about our evolutionary past that justify modern stereotypes and inequalities. The New Yorker summarizes and historicizes this pattern well. When it makes normative claims, evopsych tends to engage in the same is/ought fallacy that structural functionalism did: whatever we observe people doing must serve some necessary function—or else it wouldn’t have evolved—and so whatever is, ought to be. Social reformers beware: you’re meddling with forces beyond your comprehension and fighting against human nature.

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to tweet or not to tweet? tips and tricks for sociology grad students

Earlier this week, I was asked to help organize an event for graduate students seeking advice on the “responsible use of twitter for grad students.” Of course, my first instinct was to crowdsource advice from #SocTwitter itself. In this post, I gather together some of the advice suggested by others, including a list of already published or posted resources and guides.

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what I’ve learned: chairing unc’s general education curriculum redesign

From 2016-2019 I had two positions that have taught me a lot about academic leadership and organizations. I led the process of redeveloping UNC’s General Education curriculum, “IDEAs in Action,” which was approved in April 2019; and I sat on the American Sociological Association’s (ASA) elected Council. These two blog posts are intended to explain some of the things I’ve learned from both of these experiences .

This first post will deal with what I’ve learned from three years chairing the curriculum redesign process.

Continue reading “what I’ve learned: chairing unc’s general education curriculum redesign”

Faculty: Should you have an advising expectations document? (Probably?)

One of the benefits of sabbatical is finally dusting off to-do tasks that have withered on the list from neglect. For me, today one such task was (finally!) looking at this Advising Expectations and Guidelines from @dandanar and updating it for my students (grad advisees + undergraduates working on research). I don’t think anything in this document will surprise my current students, but I’m hoping laying it out on paper (and making it available online) will help smooth the process of establishing new advising relationships in the future. My primary goal with this document was to encourage students to ask for assistance from faculty–especially on reading work-in-progress. But it is also meant to facilitate that ask so it is as easy as possible for me to say yes.

I’m posting the work-in-progress document here to start the conversation. Faculty: Do you have such a document? Why or why not? What do you include in yours? Students: Are these helpful? Why or why not?

And for more excellent advice on things like being a good advisee, forming your committee, and reviewing work kindly follow the links! (h/t to @olderwoman for the suggestions on Twitter).