Dr Melissa Sands

Assistant Professor of Politics and Data Science

The Data Science Institute (DSI) forms a nexus for teaching and learning in data science, and for coordinating degree programmes in data science that span departments.

The Department of Government will launch a new degree programme for 2022/23 in the form of the BSc Politics and Data Science. Admissions are open for this programme that will combine rigorous training in political science with a good understanding of applied data science methods.

This edition of the data science spotlight showcases Dr Melissa Sands, who will lead the teaching of two new modules within the programme: GV330: Data Science Applications to Politics Research which introduces students to the latest empirical research using big data in political science and the unique Capstone in Data Science and Civic Engagement, a third year project where students work with civic partner organisations to apply data science methodologies to a question of practical importance in the political or social world.

The DSI was proud to recently welcome Melissa as a new DSI Affiliate and to host a CIVICA Data Science Seminar in which she outlined her current research project 'Seeing racial avoidance on city streets'. This project produced an engaging seminar and a recording of this is available on YouTube.

Melissa and co-author Bryce Dietrich combine a novel source of 'big data' with a field experiment, using public video camera feeds to study 'everyday racism' by measuring how pedestrians in New York City behave towards individuals who are phenotypically Black or White. Melissa explains that the study data, public video feeds of city sidewalks, "provides an opportunity to solve sticky measurement problems, while the field experiment provides a causal interpretation that rules out alternative explanations of the phenomenon we observe."

Melissa's research interest in how such everyday experiences affect behaviour, particularly how socioeconomic inequality impacts political behaviour, aligns well with the new BSc Politics and Data Science. The programme will allow students to study the politics of big data, social media and data science and will provide students with the statistical and programming skills necessary to apply these methods to political data.

BSc Politics and Data Science graduates will embark on a variety of careers. These include careers in the civil service, government and international organisations, with digital media firms, both on the data science and the political side of the operation, with regulators and organisations in the growing field of data journalism.

Visit the Department of Government Virtual Undergraduate Open Day page to find out more about studying in the Department.