Summer Institute Improves Research Skills

July 2, 2009

If you attend one of the Methodology Center’s Summer Institutes, the probability is very high that you’ll learn something new about statistics. This year, forty researchers from more than twenty universities and research organizations convened at the Penn State Conference Center Hotel, June 29 to July 1, for the 14th Summer Institute on Longitudinal Analysis. This is the fourteenth summer in which the institute has provided researchers across the country a chance to network and brush up on some valuable, cutting-edge methodological theory.

Each year, the topic of the summer institute series changes, because “methodology is always changing,” notes Dr. Linda Collins, director of the Methodology Center, who also instructed at the Summer Institute this year. The overarching theme this year was latent class analysis and latent transition analysis, two statistical approaches “in which data are examined with the goal of discovering subgroups, or latent classes, of individuals who have similar characteristics,” says Collins.

The Summer Institute combines lectures, discussions, software demonstrations, and hands-on workshop exercises. The hands-on exercises, according to Dr. Margaret Keiley, professor of human development and family studies at Auburn University who attended the Summer Institute this year, are one of the best assets of the Methodology Center’s Summer Institute series. “You can easily apply what you learn here because everyone brings a computer and we learn the programming together,” she says. “You have the chance to make mistakes and to learn from them.”

Keiley adds that another highlight of the Summer Institute series is that the coordinators consistently book prominent names in the field to present at the institutes. “The Methodology Center’s Summer Institutes are the most useful summer seminar series I’ve been to. I’ve been to them many times—I started coming as soon as I became an academic—and the organizers get some of the best names in the field who can teach about cutting-edge topics.”

Michael Marshal, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh and attendee of the 2009 Summer Institute, agrees. “Not only is Penn State’s Methodology Center considered one of the best statistical training centers in the country, but the center is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse—because of this, they can attract well-known speakers who are leaders in substance-use research. This provides a great environment in which we can learn and network.”

Yet another strong point of the series is that the Summer Institutes are attended by both novice researchers (graduate students and pre- and postdoctoral researchers) and experienced researchers. “It gives people with varying levels of expertise a chance to interact,” says Keiley.

“The Summer Institute went exceptionally well this year,” says Collins. “The group of attendees was lively, engaged, and very interactive.  They kept things interesting by asking a lot of great questions.  One reason it is so enjoyable to be a Summer Institute instructor is that the small group size and open format provide ample time for discussion. This gave Dr. Lanza and me the opportunity to learn more about how the attendees plan to implement latent class and latent transition analysis in their own scientific work.”

Instructors at the summer institute this year included Dr. Linda Collins, Dr. Stephanie Lanza, scientific director and research associate, the Methodology Center, and Dr. Bethany Bray, assistant director and research associate, the Methodology Center.

The Methodology Center is an interdisciplinary center that comprises faculty, research associates, postdoctoral researchers, and students from several academic disciplines, including human development, psychology, statistics, and public health. In collaboration with prevention and treatment scientists, the center conducts cutting-edge methodological research focusing on: (1) identifying issues in statistics, research design, and measurement emerging in the prevention and treatment of problem behaviors, particularly drug abuse; (2) conducting original research on these issues; (3) applying the new methods we develop in empirical research; and (4) disseminating new methods to prevention and treatment scientists.

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Editors: Linda Collins can be reached at lmcollins@psu.edu or 814-865-7090. For additional information, please contact the College of Health and Human Development Office of College Relations at 814-865-3831 or healthhd@psu.edu.