NSF Grant Supports Training of a New Breed of Social Science Scholar

‘EITM’ Summer Workshops Unify Research Tools Traditionally Taught In Silos

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded nearly $165,000 to the University of Houston Hobby Center for Public Policy (HCPP) in support of a program offered by few higher education entities in the country. It’s a program that trains and transforms the social science researcher. HCPP

Empirical Implications of Theoretical Models (EITM) is the title of the research approach that brings together formal and statistical analysis. It also is the topic of an annual summer training institute at HCPP. The institute, started in 2012, trains the next generation of researchers in the social and policy sciences and equips them with skills traditionally taught independently, thus failing to harness the strengths each possesses.     

“The goal of EITM is to assist in the development of cumulative social, behavioral and policy sciences,” said Jim Granato, professor and director of the HCPP. “The means to that goal is to break ‘siloed’ training to create more transparent relationships between theory and test. To do it well, the student must master a broader set of skills that most social scientists do not learn when they were in graduate school.” EITM

Frank Scioli, former director of the NSF Political Science Program who served from 1976 to 2011 adds that with EITM training, a student (or faculty member who wants to retool) will be taught to unify mathematical models and statistical tests so there is a close approximation to what one is asserting and whether the predictions of the models are borne out. 

“EITM does not make your model or theory right,” he said. “What EITM does is give you a better sense of where you went wrong, and, with that, take the necessary steps to improve model accuracy. You cannot achieve that with just mathematical modeling or just empirical testing.”

Granato says the research methods learned in graduate school typically become out-of-date. Researchers find themselves falling behind with inadequate research designs or trained in ways that fail to give them the necessary tools for making their own—and future—basic research contributions.  

“The UH program was funded because the NSF deemed it an extremely valuable public and national resource for social science graduate students,” Scioli said. “But what matters is the students who have written with praise for the program as a transformative experience that exposes them to ways to develop high quality research for their Ph.D. dissertations.”

The program is a major milestone for the HCPP and its Hobby School of Public Affairs initiative. In 2013, the UH System Board of Regents passed a resolution supporting that effort. William P. Hobby, a former lieutenant governor of Texas, also was a University of Houston System Chancellor (1995-1997). He sits on the advisory board of the HCPP.

With this award, the University of Houston joins a few elite universities to receive this type of NSF award. Among prior recipients for EITM training institutes are: Harvard, Duke and Princeton Universities, as well as the University of Chicago, UC-Berkeley, Washington University and the University of Michigan.  

For more information about the EITM Summer Institutes, visit: http://www.class.uh.edu/hcpp/EITM/institute.htm