Summer Institute increases research skills

If you attend one of the Penn State Methodology Center's Summer Institutes, the probability is very high that you'll learn something new about statistics. This year, 40 researchers from more than 20 universities and research organizations convened at the Penn State Conference Center Hotel from June 29 to July 1 for the 14th Summer Institute on Longitudinal Analysis. Each year the Institute has provided researchers across the country with the chance to network and brush up on valuable, cutting-edge methodological theory.

The topic of the summer institute series changes annually because “methodology is always changing,” said 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,” Collins said.

The Summer Institute combines lectures, discussions, software demonstrations, and hands-on workshop exercises. The hands-on exercises, according to Margaret Keiley, professor of human development and family studies at Auburn University and attendee at the Summer Institute this year, are one of the best assets of the series.

“You can easily apply what you learn here because everyone brings a computer and we learn the programming together,” Keiley said. “You have the chance to make mistakes and to learn from them.”

For Keiley, another highlight of the Summer Institute series is that 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.”

Attendee Michael Marshal, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, agreed.

“Not only is Penn State’s Methodology Center considered one of the best statistical training centers in the country, but it 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,” he said.

Yet another strong point of the series is that it is attended by novice researchers -- graduate students and pre/postdoctoral researchers -- and experienced researchers alike.

“It gives people with varying levels of expertise a chance to interact,” said Keiley.

“The Summer Institute went exceptionally well this year,” said 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 (Stephanie Lanza, scientific director and research associate at the Methodology Center) 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 Collins, Lanza, and Bethany Bray, assistant director and research associate at 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 focused on the identification of issues in statistics, research design, and measurement emerging in the prevention and treatment of problem behaviors, particularly drug abuse; conducting original research on these issues; applying the newly developed methods in empirical research, and disseminating new methods to prevention and treatment scientists.

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Last Updated July 06, 2009