Carnegie Mellon University

Meet the Faculty

Mark PattersonComputational Thinking
88-300: Programming and Data Analysis for Social Scientists

Featured Faculty: Mark Patterson

What do you love about teaching?

Wow -- there's just so much about teaching I *love*! If I had to boil it down to two things, it would be this:

  1. Having an excuse to chat with really smart students about things I love (quirks in human psychology, and strategies for exploring data) -- to me, this stuff is just fascinating, and it's such a joy to get to spend time with fantastic CMU students who are curious, creative, and brilliant!
  2. Aside from the intrinsic joy of the material itself, my classes are meant to have real applied value -- I'm excited to give students skills that will actually be valuable to them.  In my introduction to R course (88-300), we extensively practice techniques that I actually think are quite valuable -- things I wish *I* had learned at an earlier stage.  I absolutely love seeing students acquiring these skills and applying them to things they're interested in.  It's such a joy to see students getting into the things I'm excited about, but (to me) the real excitement is when the students use techniques I've shown them to show me new things.  

How does what you do in the classroom reflect the impact your field has on the world?

Data analysis (and thinking about the world empirically) is everywhere. You can use this way of thinking to inform things that really matter (like public policy), but you can also use these tools just for the sake of fun and whimsy. Having fluency with data exploration allows you to ask new questions about the world, and show people brand new things in all sorts of domains. Particularly in the 88-300 class, I try to showcase the wide range of applications where these skills are useful. In that class we use data analysis to analyze literature by charting the "shapes of stories", we study paradoxes in voting behavior, we look at trends in marriage, we estimate our own values of pi, we study housing markets, and we even simulate how toddlers play matching games! Seriously -- these skills can be applied to essentially anything, and part of my big goal with the class is showcasing exactly that.