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HSE Summer School-2012 "Social Network Analysis: Methods and Applications"

On June, 22-30 Laboratory "Sociology of Education and Science" (HSE - St. Petersburg) conducts an international summer school on network analysis.

On June, 22-30 Laboratory "Sociology of Education and Science" (HSE - St. Petersburg) conducts an international summer school on network analysis. We asked Valeria Ivanyushina, the organizer of the event and the leading researcher of the Laboratory, to tell more about network analysis and why there is demand for this school.

Q: Please tell us why SESL has decided to organize this summer school on network analysis?

VI: Network analysis is not just a method; it is a new optics for solving various problems. It is used in many areas, not only in sociology, but also in economics, anthropology, psychology, etc. It allows looking at familiar things in a completely different way. Network analysis is becoming more and more popular in the last ten years, it is taught in many universities around the world. Unfortunately, in Russia it is still taught almost nowhere. However, researchers know that there is a strong trend, so they are interested in exploring this approach. Our school is partly responding this request, because not everyone can afford to study abroad in the foreign summer school on network analysis. But since we do not have our own experts, we invite lecturers from abroad.

Q: Tell us more about the lecturers.

VI: Jeroen Bruggeman from the Netherlands will be the leading lecturer. It is quite a well-known researcher, he has published a book called "Introduction to Network Analysis" and numerous articles. He is mainly engaged in analysis of large networks in the field of political science. There also will be a graduate of the Annenberg School of Communication in Southern California and American lecturer who defended his thesis at the University of Irvine (California). Now he teaches at the Graduate School of Economics in Moscow.

Q: How the recruitment of the lecturers was conducted?

VI: It was not an easy task to find good lecturers as we almost do not pay them, except for the tickets and hotels. It must have been a person who is ready to come to St.Petersburg for ten days during the holidays, and to work all day long without remuneration. Searching for the lecturers we have used their personal networks and connections. Daniel Alexandrov and I traveled regularly to the international world conference on network analysis “SunBelt” for the last three years and we have already known many people in this area. Some of our American colleagues, whom we wrote to, responded immediately and began to advise their graduate students and young scholars. As a result, we have lined up a whole queue of young lecturers; we are not even able to take them all. We decided that the leading lecturer will be professor Bruggeman, but it is impossible to teach for eight hours a day, so he should have assistants. After several weeks of searching, we began to form team of lecturers. Firstly we found Nina O'Brien. Then we were advised to invite foreign expert Benjamin Lind, who works in Moscow HSE program of hiring young foreign scientists, and has recently received his Ph.D. Then we began to receive inquiries from other potential young lecturers, they were mostly Americans, but we have unfortunately been unable to take them. We "save" them for the next year, because we want to turn this school into the annual event.

Q: Can you tell me what will be the program of the school. This is basic network analysis?

VI: No, we are not going to cover the basics of network analysis. This school is designed for people who have already learned something and know terminology and basic principles of this approach, and most importantly for those who use network analysis in their research projects. We know that many young researchers have technical difficulties with which we want to help them to cope.

Q: Do you mean difficulties with software?

VI: Often the major problem is what method to choose. The fact is that the network analysis is not as clear as classical statistics. There are many methods and approaches, and what exactly will work better in certain situations is not always clear. Using the fact that we will have three foreign teachers from different areas, as well as a number of fairly advanced students, we want to devote some time to the discussion of participants’ projects. We pay particular attention to the choice of methods and approaches, and specific difficulties and problems.

Q: How will the school day be organized?

VI: Each day we will have four parts of training. The first part will consist of a lecture by professor Bruggeman. The itinerary has already been posted on the website of the Summer School. Many schools on the network analysis are organized around a specific program - for example, on UCINet or on longitudinal modeling in SIENA. Our task is fundamentally different. The school will focus on the solution of research tasks, each lecture will be devoted to a certain problem and methods of its solution.

The second unit - a discussion of research articles, when you start to do something, it is important to know what people did before you and how they did it. Articles will also be picked up around certain research topics. We tried to find bright, strong paper, which is called state of the art.

Q: Is there any special reader?

VI: The participants have to read at least a few articles for the first couple of days before the school. Every day at the seminar one or two articles will be discussed. In the evening before the seminar, participants will have to read new articles. We expect that the people at the seminar will work actively. Since we have a lot of people, we will divide them into working groups that was not such that one person talks all the time, and the rest are silent.

The third block is laboratory practice. There is a lot of software for network analysis, but not all programs are embraced, we had to put some limits. We decided to choose programming language R, which is free and it is already has a lot of packages for network analysis; also it is constantly developing and expanding. For example, the well-known program SIENA, which was originally implemented in the package StocNET, is now supported in R environment.

Q: So, it doesn’t matter what software to use?

VI: In fact, the researcher can use various software. Some programs are better sharpened to solve certain problems; there are some feature-rich programs. But now almost everything is implemented in R, so we decided to organize practical training in this program. Laboratory work will last for 2 hours a day. The fourth part is discussion of our own projects; participants will be able to present their work and get practical advice.

In addition to the main program, we have planned guest lectures. Our school lasts for 8 days (June, 22 – 30); and on June, 22-24, St. Petersburg State University organizes a major international conference called «Networks in the Global World». Our school is more educational, oriented on young scholars, and the conference at St. Petersburg State University is for adult researchers.  Many stars of network analysis will come there, and some of them agreed to come to us as guest lecturers.

Q: Who, for example?

VI: Martin Everett, Kathleen Carley and David Knoke will come to the conference at St. Petersburg State University. These people who were the founders of contemporary network analysis, they created the famous software program which is now used all over the world. We have a tentative agreement with Everett and Carley that they, if they have time, will come and held guest lectures at our school.

Q: Please tell us what countries the participants come from?

VI: We did not expect that we will have such a wide geography. Fourty-two students, fifteen boys and twenty-seven girls filled in application forms in total. Five of them will come from overseas countries (USA, Mexico, Colombia), eight people come from neighboring countries (Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan). There are two foreigners who are studying or working in the HSE, one in Perm, the other one in Moscow. There are two Russians who study abroad (one in London and one in Utrecht). 7 people come from Moscow, six people from Tomsk, Perm, and Kemerovo. Most of participants are from St. Petersburg, 14 in total. All in all 32 participants will participate in this school.

Q: Whose applications will be declined?

VI: It is easy to choose when you look at the application; some applications were declined because of poor English. English language proficiency was one of the basic requirements as the whole school in English. In addition, those applicants those own projects are based on network analysis were preferred. We have received several applications with the following motivation in them: "I have heard that there is such a method as network analysis, and I'm somewhat familiar with the terminology, and would like to learn more about it." We declined such applications and took only those who are actively developing their own projects using network-based approach. As a result, we have 32 people, but we cannot listen to all of the projects during the school, we just will not have time for this. We are going to choose 18-20 most interesting ones to discuss.

Q: How many days will the school last?

VI: June, 22-30, it is 9 days, but in the middle there will be a day off, so that people can take a breathe, walk around for a bit, go to museums, visit Pushkin or Peterhof not to skip the beauty of St. Petersburg!

Q: Thank you!

By Veronica Kostenko