Social Scientist Day: researcher reveals how digital acceleration is impacting profession
Social scientists are researchers dedicated to understanding the dynamics of human societies and cultures. That is how professionals who work in this area can be defined. Understanding the structure and functioning of relationships established in society, whether in politics, cultural manifestations or social movements, is the aim of the social sciences.
Today, July 22, is Social Scientist Day in Brazil. To celebrate these professionals, FGV News spoke to Juliana Marques, a researcher at Fundação Getulio Vargas’ School of Social Sciences (FGV CPDOC), whose research interests are focused on digital humanities and policies to reduce inequalities. In this interview, she talks about how digital acceleration and the multiplicity of career options have transformed the everyday routines of this profession.
When did digital transformation start to affect the activities of social scientists?
Without a doubt, digital transformation is affecting the social sciences and this has been happening since the first computers were developed. For example, back in 1949, a philosophy professor and Jesuit priest named Roberto Busa carried out the electronic indexing of the entire works of philosopher Thomas Aquinas.
Which digital tools are most relevant to your daily activities?
I like to recall the impact that happened when the first personal computers were sold in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and then when the internet developed in the 1990s, although it only became widespread in Brazil at the turn of the millennium, when the Web 2.0 emerged. We are now used to a more interactive internet, which helps us produce content more easily. All of this brought about a major transformation.
In addition, programs that are integrated into our everyday work, such as Word and PowerPoint, which were first developed in the 1980s, are being progressively replaced in academia, in the research area, by another set of applications and tools, such as the Jupyter Notebook environment. This allows social scientists to produce texts while performing more sophisticated analysis, using algorithms, artificial intelligence and other tools recently developed in the field of computer science.
What is the scope of activity of social scientists?
Their expert knowledge encompasses political institutions, economic transformations, cultural manifestations and social movements, from local to global. They carry out social research in the academic environment of universities and research institutes, as well as in positions involving more direct intervention and social movements, at governmental and civil society organizations, international bodies and companies.
How do social scientists use digital technologies in practice?
Basically, today the work of social scientists involves the intensive use of computers and digital data. There is a series of interdisciplinary knowledge that is incorporated into our courses, arising from information science, computing, statistics and the new data science, incorporating artificial intelligence. There are also many other digital methods and tools for processing, connecting and disseminating digital data and research results.
What new career possibilities have emerged as a result of digital acceleration?
Because of the acceleration of digital transformation, the social scientist career has diversified. Professionals in the area can work as data scientists, transforming large volumes of information into relevant data, properly contextualized and related to socioeconomic and historical issues.
In the private sector, more specifically, social scientists can work as “UX researchers,” meaning that they can apply their experience in data-driven projects to connect digital services and products with a company’s different stakeholders and end users. They may also work as academic researchers, professors or digital curators in the private or public sector, implementing management, data analysis or digital service plans, always mobilizing their keen critical and analytical skills.
What skills do you see as necessary for the daily activities of social scientists?
The ability to work on interdisciplinary teams, including good communication with diverse and broad groups of stakeholders.
What types of products are there in the social sciences area?
We produce much more than scientific papers or books. There is a whole series of other formats resulting from our research and professional practice, including specific reports and dashboards presenting data to help us discover and interpret factors that are relevant to our agenda, with the aim of solving problems that exist in society and organizations.
How do social scientists participate in the job market?
Social scientists are playing an increasing role in the market in general, including at private companies. This is an exciting moment in which interdisciplinary knowledge is more valued, while people have a renewed understanding of the importance of the traditional and well-established knowledge of the social sciences.
Social scientists make a huge contribution, using both traditional methods and new computational tools, which are often developed in other areas. They also need to help develop and critically appraise these new applications, which are also useful to us.
How does FGV CPDOC stay up to date in relation to new digital technologies and the multiplicity of career options?
Social sciences courses have been updated to reflect the needs and transformations arising from digital transformation. This is our case at FGV CPDOC. We constantly discuss and revise our curriculum, and we experiment with various formats, testing different digital education methods. There is an emphasis on more practical and shorter courses, not least because these technologies are changing quickly. This is a challenging and promising time, as our capacity for analysis has been boosted by computational tools, in line with our demands.
What advice would you give to someone who is signing up for a social sciences course?
To those who are starting out in the social sciences, I suggest engaging in practical and collaborative projects that integrate well-established theoretical knowledge in the area with the applied dimension of research. I also recommend gaining experience of different methods of analysis, including qualitative, quantitative and computational. This is a comprehensive and fascinating field.
This article is part of a special series called Connections for the Future: Social Scientist Day.