Accessible Data Guides Porter’s Research

Published by Emile Creel on

“There’s data everywhere, and we collect it on seemingly everything, but we don’t have many places where we make it easy to digest and gain insight. The research I do takes the data, boils it down, and presents it back to the individuals in a publicly accessible way, so they can glean information,” said Jeremy Porter, professor of sociology at the City University of New York (CUNY), senior lecturer at Columbia University, and a former graduate research assistant at the SSRC.

He recognizes the importance of transforming data into accessible pieces that will be utilized. That is why he now considers himself a data scientist interested not so much in the topic of the research, but in the way, it is being made available for public consumption. He spends time looking for innovative ways to present that data including publicly available interactive websites and maps.

Porter, also the director of the Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences (QMSS) Program at the CUNY Graduate Center, has been featured on multiple media outlets including The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and mentioned on the Senate floor. Additionally, he publishes most often in interdisciplinary journals such as the Annual Review of Public HealthSocial Problems, and many other social science/methods-based outlets.

While writing for publications early in his career, Porter found an under-representation in journals for much of the work he and others were doing around the publication of high-quality maps. As a result, he has spent the last 10 years building outlets for researchers to make spatial work more explicitly available. He has co-founded a journal, Spatial Demography. This journal strives to cover the innovative use and adoption of spatial concepts and geospatial data, and focuses on the spatial analysis of demographic processes. Additionally, Porter was the founding editor of the Journal of Maps-Social Science Section and remains the current editor-in-chief of Springer’s Book Series, Spatial Demography.

Working in the startup phase is something that runs throughout Porter’s career as he also was the lead developer of the master’s program he is currently directing. The QMSS program was the first of its kind at a public university in New York and the third at a public or private institution in the area.

While many of his students will go on to pursue academic positions, Porter is most proud of the fact that he feels like his focus methods-based research gives his students opportunities in the academic, non-profit, government, and private spheres.

“My mentoring role with the Ph.D. students and working with the master’s students in the quantitative methods program to give them the skills they’ll need out on the job market has been one of the most satisfying things I have done since I’ve been a professional,” he said.

In addition to all of this work, he remains a dedicated researcher and data scientist. Before his move to CUNY, he completed postdoctoral training at Rice University after finishing a Ph.D. at Mississippi State University (MSU). Some of his first data work was in an assistantship with the SSRC’s Survey Research Laboratory (SRL) during his Ph.D.

After a time with the SRL, he continued at the center working with Ron Cossman, an associate research professor, and as a postdoc under SSRC Director Art Cosby.  These experiences, coupled with the mentoring from MSU sociology professor Frank Howell, were essential in his development as a researcher and helped shape his views around his focus on applied research.

“My first position at the SSRC allowed me to work directly with the scientists that were designing, implementing, and analyzing the surveys. It was a good introduction into the SSRC,” said Porter, who earned a Ph.D. in sociology with a concentration in Demography, minor in Mathematics-Statistics, and certification in Geospatial Technologies. “My work in my program was quantitatively oriented, and I knew I wanted to collect my own data. I really focused on quantitative and GIS methods and applied research. As I developed those methods, it gave me the opportunity to be integrated into the applied work.”

In addition to the research experience, Porter acknowledges the center as a place where he met friends and mentors. People, he remains in contact with today.

“The SSRC aligned with what I wanted to do: applied research that could enact change. It gave you the opportunity to do work that was being used by policymakers and practitioners. The SSRC was working on grants for science that could be used to help the communities they were serving,” he said.

The contributions of research associates and doctoral students at the SSRC have been an integral feature of the center’s culture and the success we have had in our research and development programs. Porter is a superb example of the advantages of combining the experiences of a strong doctoral program in sociology with the experience of working in a social science research center. His contributions to science are clearly substantial. He is nationally recognized as one of the leaders in spacial and quantitative research and is among the first to recognize the need in establishing a graduate specialization in data science. My colleagues and I at the SSRC are very pleased and proud that he carried out a portion of his early studies and research at our center.-SSRC Director Art Cosby