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How to get into social network analysis?
November 24, 2012 5:25 PM   Subscribe

What's a good way to get into social network analysis? Wild like advice on graduate programs and industry.

I'm interested in network analysis, particularly for large, sociological datasets. I am interested in going to graduate school because it doesn't seem like my current experience is enough for industry jobs. I have a biomedical engineering background, and can program but have less of a footing on statistics. No experience in the social sciences either, though I do have a personal interest in it and enjoy reading pop books on the subject. I'm looking for phD programs because I enjoy research and projects more than coursework, but am open to a masters if its funded.

I am having trouble finding programs that specialize in social network analysis. Is this too new a thing? Is my best bet to get a standard stats degree and work for Facebook or something? I found just one program that specializes in social networks, but I have a feeling that they will be scattered in different fields, like computer science, math, stats, sociology, econ, maybe even business. Public health is also an option.

I'm feeling a little overwhelmed right now and not finding the right info. Is the anyone out there that knows about the field that can point me in the right direction or give me some leads? I basically want to study how organizations and agents within them work, the relationships between them as well as emergent properties, and use quantitative methods. What's the best way for me to do this given my (lack of) experience? Thanks!
posted by lacedcoffee to Education (17 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
SNA is just a method.

You want to research (scholarly) who is studying the phenomenon that you're interested in.

Fields: Communication, Sociology, Political Science (maybe?).
posted by k8t at 5:40 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I had another life to live, I would be doing this graduate degree in Marketing. If you are honest with yourself about wanting something with a path to a real job, that seems the best bet. I know people in a program at the Business School of my university who are doing all this as part of their coursework and projects.

But, given the cost of professional schools these days, I'd stick hard to getting your current employer to fund it.
posted by tintexas at 6:13 PM on November 24, 2012

I am having trouble finding programs that specialize in social network analysis. Is this too new a thing? Is my best bet to get a standard stats degree and work for Facebook or something?

Here's a review of a book about the history of social network analysis. I found it by googling up the home page of someone I knew was doing SNA in the 80s. And the review suggests this program at Irvine was the first to offer a PhD in it. The sociology program there seems to have plenty of people doing it too.

So it's not a new thing (unless you mean using it in the study of online social networking applications), and that's a reasonable starting point.

From there, think of the subject as a social network to analyze. Start with some papers that sound about like what you want to do (Google Scholar is your friend). Google up the people who wrote and/or who're cited in those papers. Find out where they are, what other people are there (via the department web site), and what other people they cite, and keep going until you have a half-decent map of the possibilities.

Elite programs have very early application deadlines, but I imagine you're well in time for most options.

As you start going through the process, you might send a really short letter of introduction to a couple of researchers to express concrete interest in their work, describe your goals, and just ask the fairly objective question of whether their school is a match for what you'd like to do or whether they can recommend other schools that would be worth considering. If you phrase it such that you're not asking for much feedback--just something that can be answered in a sentence or two without knowing any more about you--that might work out.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 6:17 PM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

for online social networking applications, HCI is a related field. Look at the CHI proceedings maybe
posted by victory_laser at 6:28 PM on November 24, 2012

Thanks Monsieur caution; definitely some helpful tips. Funny enough, that irvine programs the one program that I was able to find.

In regards to timtexas's comment about finding a real job afterwards; I for some reason thought there would be lots of options out there, for example at social media companies, especially if I have a more quantitative degree. It seems like a method that is applicable in a lot of places, and I'm not too married to staying exactly within one area of study. Am I completely off-base?
posted by lacedcoffee at 6:30 PM on November 24, 2012

Victory_laser: is hci human computer interface?
posted by lacedcoffee at 6:31 PM on November 24, 2012

I don't know enough about the area to give a good overview, but I can tell you about some specific programs.

At CMU, Kathleen Carley heads up CASOS, which does a lot of dynamic social network analysis. Examples of projects would be building better software tools to help analyze communications, support geographic analysis, and so on. A large number of tools from her group are used by Dept of Defense, DHS, DEA, and more.

David Krackhardt (also at CMU) is also quite well known for his work in social network analysis, to understand how organizations work.

Our department in HCI (human computer interaction) also does some work in social network analysis, though it's not really our specialty.

Karrie Karahalios at UIUC has done a lot of great work in visualizing and analyzing online social networks (like Facebook).

Barry Wellman is also quite well known for his work in social network analysis, from a sociology perspective.

There's definitely a lot more out there, and like I mentioned up top, please keep in mind I only know a little bit about this area.
posted by jasonhong at 6:38 PM on November 24, 2012

ditto what jason said re. HCI. It's an interdisciplinary field where some researchers do SNA-related work.
posted by victory_laser at 6:49 PM on November 24, 2012

Faculty at the University of Michigan affiliated with the Center for the Study of Complex Systems are doing social network analysis research. Mark Newman is well-kown for the visualizations he's generated, some of which have made it to MetaFilter posts. Lada Adamic taught a free Coursera course on SNA this fall.

Although given your research interests, you should look at who in business schools is doing the kind of research you are interested in, using social network analysis as one of the main methods. Look for programs that have organization studies as one of the fields of concentration, e.g. Organizational Behavior and Theory at CMU's Tepper School of Business (the aforementioned David Krackhardt teaches at both Tepper and Heinz at CMU). Look through a journal such as Organization Science and look at who at what school is publishing research on social network analysis of organizations.
posted by needled at 7:11 PM on November 24, 2012

Communication is key field for SNA (method) and theories of networks. Look at USC-Annenberg (Peter Monge), UCSB, and other Communication programs that focus on Organizational Communication.
posted by lalalana at 8:02 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a PhD student at the University of Maryland's iSchool, and although I don't personally work in network analysis, it is something that other researchers are currently working on. iSchools are sort of strange beasts, and I don't know that I'd say they're exactly sociological (although it depends on the school, certainly). There seems to be a lot of computer science and programming in our particular program, but I also feel like that's something that would change at, say, Austin, or UCLA, or Chapel Hill.

The career trajectory from iSchools, so far as I understand it, can often lead out in to industry if academia isn't your thing, but a lot of that is going to have to do with your ability to network. The info. science field is sort of shaky / sort of promising at the moment, and my general advice would be to not pay to get a masters in it, but instead wait for some sort of GAship/Scholarship to pay for at least tuition, and preferably include some sort of stipend.

A list of iSchools is included here. In our particular program, our Human Computer Interaction program, and our information science for business administration (called a Master of Information Management) are all wrapped up in to the iSchool program, along with the more traditional Library Science and archives tracks. At the masters level you'd probably be specifically interested in the HCI program.
posted by codacorolla at 9:23 PM on November 24, 2012

Social network analysis is annoyingly interdisciplinary. Everybody thinks it's "really" CS or "really" sociology or "really" psychology or "really" applied statistics or etc etc ...

As far as I know (and I know a little bit, mostly from attending the Workshop on Information in Networks every year) there is no program in it. There are, however, several standout groups doing SNA work. For this kind of thing, go with people rather than degree titles. People's names include: Alex "Sandy" Pentland, Laslo Barabasi, David Lazer, Duncan Watts, Christos Faloutsos, Nicholas Christakis, James Fowler, Mark Newman, Alessandro Vespigiani, Michael Kearns, and many more.

I don't know of any programs, but there are loci of people who do SNA at NYU (in the Stern School of Business) at Harvard (in Political Science) at Northeastern (Barabasi and Vespigiani are there) at CMU (Faloutsos and more) at MIT (Media lab) and at Michigan (Center for the Study of Complex Systems). All of these groups are doing vaguely similar work under the aegis of many many different degree programs.
posted by pmb at 7:00 AM on November 25, 2012

I don't think that doing a PhD in a discipline and learning SNA is the way to an industry job.

Again, look for the phenomenon you want, then the method. Really really really really.
posted by k8t at 7:14 AM on November 25, 2012

We had a unit on SNA in my Master's of Health Care Adminstration program (at UNC-Chapel Hill's School of Public Health), so nthing that this is a technique that is used in many disciplines.

I think there are two ways to attack this. If your goal is an industry job, look up the jobs you want to eventually hold and figure out what they require. What kinds of degrees and experience are they looking for?

Alternatively, if you want to research something, figure out what you want to research (the person who taught our SNA unit was using it to analyze linkages between public health departments and other entities) and find a program that will allow you to research that.
posted by jeoc at 8:12 AM on November 25, 2012

I was also going to mention Mark Newman at Michigan - I know two of his PhD advisees who are now Facebook employees.
posted by naoko at 8:28 AM on November 25, 2012

The dude sitting next to me, who interned at IBM, says that there is a very friendly social media analyst that does a lot of social networking research outreach and went to UNC Chapel Hill (Computer Science program.) He says maybe shoot her a Tweet or a PM @Jewelia, since it's part of her job to answer questions like this, both to promote the field philanthropically and advertise IBM's intellectual diversity.
posted by WidgetAlley at 9:27 AM on November 25, 2012

This is on my to-do list too. It overlaps with my current professional research a bit, and I'm in a spot where I can/should/must sit down at my own computer & do it all myself.

You can learn to use Gephi on your own. And Visone. Those are just a few of the tools that SNA folk use, but I think they're both quite well-documented online for the autodidact.
posted by knile at 4:33 AM on November 27, 2012

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