Professor John Kane on Teaching Statistics

By John Kane

I am currently completing my Ph.D. in the Department of Political Science at Stony Brook University.  Working in a highly quantitative, research-oriented department, I am generally involved in several research projects at any given time, including my dissertation.  I frequently present these projects at political science conferences, prepare my research for publication in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, and also occasionally serve as a reviewer for scholarly journals.

At the Center for Global Affairs, I teach Analytic Skills for Global Affairs as well as Applied Statistics.  Teaching these courses serves as a wonderful opportunity to communicate the value of becoming both a better consumer of knowledge, as well as a better producer of knowledge.  Most importantly, I teach students the very same principles of research that I abide by in my own work.  This is key, I believe, for accomplishing my primary goal as an instructor, which is to enable students to better investigate the questions and global phenomena they care about.  

analysis-810025_960_720In some cases, this also requires removing some of the dread that can often come with learning statistics.  As such, I frequently show students data sets that I am working with in one of my own research projects.  I demonstrate to students how to perform various analyses, and also walk them through what the outcomes of these analyses tell us substantively.  In my lectures, I also include numeric tables and figures from other published works, and assign students to read and analyze existing quantitative research done by leading scholars in various fields.   I believe that such exercises help to demystify quantitative research, and also provide students with an up-close view of the various stages of a research project. More fundamentally, such discussions allow students to see that the material we learn in class is truly part and parcel of what real-world researchers do on a daily basis, and also reinforce the key point that, as researchers, we don’t care about “doing math” so much as we care about understanding relationships between various social phenomena.

In terms of my own research, I currently have two projects that I am especially excited about.  First, I recently submitted a dissertation chapter to a peer-reviewed journal, and was able to write about this research in a political science blog on The Washington Post’s website.  Second, a research paper that I co-authored with a faculty member at Stony Brook is being considered for publication in a prominent scholarly journal.  This paper used a variety of research methods to better understand the foreign policy preferences of the American public, as well as how these preferences can affect the outcomes of national elections.
It is wonderful to be able to incorporate my own research projects into the courses that I teach at the CGA.  Perhaps most importantly, I believe it helps students gain confidence that they, too, can engage in scientific research.  In teaching these courses at the CGA, I am constantly trying to develop better ways of helping students achieve precisely this sense of empowerment.  Indeed, witnessing students develop a sense of ownership over their research projects is among the most rewarding experiences I can have as an instructor.  It inspires me to do more, and better, research when I am not in the classroom; to strive even harder to practice what I preach.    


John Kane is currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at Stony Brook University. He received an M.S. in Global Affairs from New York University’s Center for Global Affairs with a focus on International Relations.  His primary research interests include U.S. foreign policy, political attitudes and ideology, and experimental research methods.  He has taught undergraduate courses on human rights and global environmental politics, political ideology and foreign policy, as well as graduate courses covering quantitative research methods and data analysis.  

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