Have you got the S Factor?

Following last year’s magical demonstration, this year Dr. Michela Tincani introduced the S-Factor to her Statistical Methods in Economics class. See below for Michela’s blog post on her new X Factor style statistics competition!

S Factor finalists and judges with Michela

With S Factor, I had two goals in mind. First, to better connect the course material to the real world. On one hand, this connection is something that students find very valuable and always ask for. On the other, I think it’s useful to show them why statistics is important by means of concrete examples. I think it sticks with them longer. The second reason for the S Factor was to give a chance to ambitious students to shine, and to me to get to know our students better. The module is large, nearing 300 students this year alone. This can feel impersonal for the students, and for me too. Reading their S Factor proposals, and then interacting closely with the finalists and seeing them present gave me a chance to get to know some of them better.

Let me tell you about the S Factor. The S Factor is a statistics competition. At the beginning of term, I gave students some ideas of how the course material can be applied to the real world, and encouraged them to submit their own ideas for research projects that use data and the concepts learned in class to analyse a real-world phenomenon. The data could be anything: data collected from their daily lives, data available on international organisations and statistical agencies websites, data from the media, anything. Equally, the topic could be anything, from guessing the likelihood that sweets in a cafeteria would be good, to predicting the number of phone calls received in a day, to describing features of Leave and Remain voters, etc.

I received a good number of submissions and selected 6 finalists based on how well the projects connected statistics to the real world, on creativity, and on technical soundness. Being selected for the final is an academic achievement, so I told the students that I would communicate this achievement to their personal tutors, which they can mention in a reference letter.

S Factor Judges
L to R: Dr. Silvia Dal Bianco, Dr. Frank Sowrey, Dr. Ryan Kendall, Dr. Gabriella Conti

The 6 finalists presented in the final. A panel of 4 judges drawn from our exceptional faculty at UCL Econ elected the 2 top projects after seeing all 6 presentations, and finally the audience (the other students) selected the winning project among these two.

S Factor Winner Presentation

In her winning project, Melusine Lebret used space agency studies and the Global Preference Survey to determine what fraction of the world population possesses the non-cognitive characteristics (patience, trust, etc.) that are required to live on Mars. (Her answer: 3 percent). A special mention goes to the runner up, Arshiya Sawney, who explored gender differences and diversity among academic economists. Women are underrepresented in the profession, especially in senior roles, so this was a very relevant topic.

For the winner, there are two “awards”. First, she will present her project as a poster in the prestigious Explore Econ undergraduate research conference (held on February 26th, 2020). Second, she will give her presentation academic next year, to the next cohort of statistics students.

A special thanks goes to last year’s stats student Alberto Minghetti, who inspired me to introduce the S Factor by completing a very interesting research project as part of an assignment. Seeing all the effort he put into that assignment, and the high quality of his work, made me realise that students are eager to go beyond what is required to get a good grade: they want to learn, they want to ask questions and answer them, they have a lot of energy and enthusiasm. With the S Factor, I just gave them an outlet for their creativity.

Questions?
Email us at ctale.ucl@gmail.com