Political Science at MIT

by Tomoya Sasaki

First report:

I would like to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation to the Ito Foundation USA-FUTI Scholarship for their generous support. I am a PhD student at the department of political science in Massachusetts Institute of Technology since September 2018. With the great support from FUTI and the Ito Foundation U.S.A., I made a smooth move to Cambridge last summer and started my new adventure.

At MIT, I am focusing on applied statistics and international political economy and have taken classes related to these fields. Among classes I took last semester, my favorite class was historical political economy. The class focused on the long run effects of political, economic, and cultural legacies. The instructor often asked us to think how events happened hundreds of years ago impacted current politics, which was an intriguing academic exercise for me. The class synthesized traditional ideas with novel approaches and provided me with alternative views of political science. Besides taking political science classes, I have taken econometric classes at the department of economics, which is known for one of the best economic programs in the world. Their way of teaching and approach to statistics are different from that of political science. It is a challenging experience but I am sure that I am learning state-of-the-art knowledge and skills to analyze social science data.

In addition, I am enjoying conducting collaborative research with professors in Cambridge. First, I have started research on Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and tariff rates with a professor at MIT. It explores how FTAs affect tariff rates between countries. I am thrilled to work on this project because it strongly relates to my substantive interest in political science. I have also been working on a project that develops a statistical method to analyze text data for social scientist with a professor at Harvard University. As I am interested in political phenomena and how to use statistics in political science, I am excited to make progress in this project and to offer a new method in the field.

My academic life at Cambridge has been made possible through generous support of FUTI and the Ito Foundation U.S.A. I am deeply indebted to the organizations. Thank you so much for making this happen.

Charles river. 1 minute walk from the department
Boston Symphony Hall. Enjoyed a Christmas concert by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Second report:

I am Tomoya Sasaki, a PhD student at the Department of Political Science in Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Thanks to the generous support from FUTI and the Ito Foundation U.S.A., I smoothly moved to Cambridge last September and have started my PhD life in Cambridge. This is my second report and I would like to focus on what I have been working on this semester (spring 2019).

As with last semester, my primary task is to take classes and learn variety of theories and methods in political science and applied statistics. In the Department of Political Science, I am taking two classes: one about the modern and contemporary political philosophy and one about international political economy. In the former class, we have read the works of Locke, Marx, and Waver. They deal with fundamental issues in political science, for example, they ask why people form a state or how income equality affects political attitude or the structure of political system. It is a refreshing experience to me because I have not read these pieces in detail and in English before. The other class, international political economy, is strongly related to my primary field of study and I am highly excited to take this course. The professor nicely talks about how the field has emerged and developed as it is right now. Although some readings are quite familiar to me, I get to know how each paper fits into larger contexts and contributes to literature.

I am also taking some classes outside my department. The first class is an econometric class, which is offered at the Department of Economics. Since this class is designed for PhD student in the Department of Economics, it is extremely challenging to me and I feel like I am spending an infinite amount of time to solve the problem sets. However, it is a great joy to finish the problem sets and understand new concepts. I also take a math class with undergraduate math-major students. This class is also important to me because sufficient understanding of math is necessary to learn applied statistics.

In addition to taking classes, I am continuously working on collaborative research with professors in MIT and Harvard, as I mentioned in the last report. In the project with a professor in MIT, I have started to analyze a huge dataset about tariffs data in the post World War II era. We try to combine this data with the data about FTA to conduct preliminary analysis on the effects of FDI on tariff rates. The other project, which I work with a professor and a student in Harvard, is now ready to present. This project aims to develop a new method in quantitative text analysis. We have decided to apply for a political science conference, which will be held in MIT this July. I am glad that we have made a good progress so far. Although, as a first-year student, taking classes is my primary task, research opportunity is another way to learn state-of-the-art methods and theories as well as how to organize research. I truly appreciate these chances to collaborate with great professors.

To conclude, I would like to thank FUTI and the Ito Foundation U.S.A. to make this happen. Especially, I truly appreciate Mr. Matsushita and Ms. Vaida for their continuous encouragement and generous support. Thank you very much.

Struggling with problem sets for the econometrics class
Frozen Charles river