Political science department makes changes to undergraduate major

May 22, 2015, 12:47 a.m.

Stanford’s political science department is reshaping its undergraduate major to make it more interesting to students and more applicable to their careers after Stanford. The changes were overseen by Justin Grimmer, associate professor of political science and future director of undergraduate studies, and will revamp both current courses as well as course sequences required for graduation.

Grimmer explained that the current political science major does not have its own identity but rather “reflects the graduate curriculum.”

While the major includes concentrations in American politics, comparative politics, international relations and political theory, these traditional fields of study do not necessarily represent what the department’s students are passionate about learning. According to Grimmer, students are most interested in tackling big questions and connecting and integrating their coursework in political science to other fields of study, and the new program will reflect this interest.

To address these issues, Grimmer says the revamp will include a new introductory course, Political Science 1, which will be offered in the winter and spring of the coming school year. Currently, there is no single introduction course for political science majors but instead four separate courses that allow students to test out the various concentrations.

Political Science 1 will aim to synthesize these four separate courses so that students can gain a broad understanding of “big concepts,” such as why war happens, why poverty and inequality exist and what factors determine a government’s ability to control environmental pollution. The course will be structured to be friendly to non-majors as well.

The new major will also forgo the traditional concentrations for a set of distinct tracks. These tracks will build upon the old concentrations, but they also incorporate what Grimmer considers necessary adaptations.

The first track, Justice and Law, will examine normative questions and the historical origins of institutions like the government. The second track, International Affairs, will deal with cooperation and violence in the international system. The third track, Elections, Representation and Governance, will focus on how governments make political decisions, how campaigns work, and how different styles of government operate. The fourth track, Political Economy and Development, will explore how politics are used to divide a society’s resources. The fifth and final track, Data Science, will allow students interested in the data analysis behind politics to gain tangible skills in this area.

Grimmer, whose personal area of research lies on the intersection of political science, computer science, and statistics, is particularly excited about the Data Science track, and he believes students will share that excitement.

“Students can learn to use algorithms, statistics and formal theory, like game theory, to extract knowledge from data to predict, explain and analyze political and social phenomena and behavior,” Grimmer said.

Additionally, this track will include a three-course sequence for students in the track. It will begin with an introduction to data science, and by the end of the sequence, students will be able to work with data skills including regression through machine learning and learning causal inference for social science.

Like the current political science major, the new major will ask students to choose a primary track and a secondary track.

Ultimately, Grimmer hopes that the new major “makes a case to students that political science is a major where they can explore their broad interests while also acquiring skills that can be useful to them when they leave Stanford.”

Grimmer added that the revamp is rooted in a desire to “better serve the majors that [the department] already has and make the best use of the faculty.”

Students who want more information on the changes may attend an information session led by Grimmer on Tuesday May 26 at 4 p.m. in building 200 room 305.

Contact Riya Mehta at riyam ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Login or create an account