Sofia Sedergren is an MA student in Political Science at The Graduate Center. Her focus is on political theory and comparative politics, and her research examines right-wing party rhetoric in Europe and their strategies to gain popular support.
When I learned about the GC Digital Research Institute (GCDRI) I had already considered learning computer programming, and I was eager to jump in and learn more about how my mostly qualitative research on European right-wing parties could grow with the help of digital research tools. Impatient as I am, I was hoping that I, by attending the Institute, would become a programming expert at once. Silly, one might think, but without any prior knowledge about programming and digital research, I didn’t know any better.
The reality of attending the GCDRI was quite different. Throughout the week, the attendees learned the basics of the command line, Git, Python, databases, machine learning, text analysis, and more from the GC Digital Research fellows. The Institute focuses on exposing the participants to different aspects of digital research and, though I am still sadly only a novice when it comes to programming, the Institute has broadened my understanding of what my research can accomplish. Rather than centering on one aspect of digital research, the breadth offered at the GCDRI allows all students to think about their research in new ways. I met people who studied linguistics, sociology, and chemistry, and everyone was able to find some aspects of the GCDRI curriculum which was interesting and applicable to their research.
The greatest impact the GCDRI had on me is that it exposed me to different aspects of digital research. I don’t have all the skills yet, and I am still trying to master the basics of Python, but I know what resources to take advantage of to get there. Throughout the semester all students at the GC have the opportunity to attend workshops, Python user groups, and Digital Fellows office hours to get help to develop their project step by step. The GCDRI is the perfect step-off point to utilize these services.
Going in with the mindset that I would become an expert programmer in a week was unrealistic, to say the least. Nonetheless, GCDRI was a crucial experience because it gave me the nudge out the door to begin developing my digital research skills. A bonus is that I now can make my computer say random things (in multiple languages).
Graduate school is a challenging experience, so when opportunities to learn additional skills come up, it can seem like a stretch. I would, however, recommend anyone who has the vaguest interest in digital research to attend the GC Digital Research Institute because it provides the base for continuing to develop one’s research in directions one might not have expected before. Additionally, it creates a community across disciplines, and you get exposure to things you will not experience in your regular academic program.