GSI Position description - PUBPOL 500/SNRE 575

Thinking Analytically for Policy and Decision

Tax and Public Finance

Thinking Analytically for Policy and Decision
Ted Parson (, Hutchins Hall 432, 763-6133
.25 FTE assignment

Course Description:
The course will develop the skills of using analytic methods and models to understand real decisions and policy issues, drawn from the realms of natural resource management, public policy, business strategy, politics, negotiations, and conflict.
The perspective will be that of a decision-maker seeking better understanding of complex situations she/he faces in managerial and professional life, and practical guidance for making decisions in these situations.
The course will consider a variety of analytic techniques, methods, and models, particularly those emphasizing uncertainty and strategic interactions in decision-making. Some elementary concepts of modeling will also be introduced, with emphasis on dynamics, uncertainty, and optimal choice under constraints. Topics covered include some that students might see in elementary microeconomics or statistics courses, although these are mostly treated more intuitively and with more application.
The emphasis throughout is on fundamental concepts, insights, and intuitions, often drawing the practical material for our discussions from current issues and controversies that we find in the newspaper. Formalism and computation will be kept to the minimum necessary to convey the basic concepts.
We will in particular practice basic skills of abstraction and formulation: recognizing situations where some simple analytic concept is potentially applicable to some messy reality; abstracting the essential characteristics of the messy reality to develop a relevant model; and critically examining the model’s implications in light of our understanding and judgments about the messy reality. We will often move iteratively between thinking about complex messy realities and simple models, using each perspective to probe, critique, and improve our understanding from the other perspective.

GSI Description:

The GSI will prepare and teach one two-hour review and discussion session each week, which will serve three purposes: a) further discussion and explanation of material from lectures with which students are having difficulty; b) helping students with difficulties related to problem-set assignments (but not doing the problems for them); c) periodically doing review/remedial sessions on specific topics in elementary college mathematics, microeconomics, or probability that students may need to follow lectures efficiently.

Additional responsibilities of the GSI will include: attending lectures; keeping office hours; grading 3 problem sets under faculty supervision; and assisting faculty in preparing and grading the final exam. Depending on the applicant’s interest and ability, there may also be the opportunity to deliver one or two classes. (Note: in view of the diverse range of backgrounds in students in the class, the problem sets are quite demanding – coaching students through these puts substantial pedagogic responsibility onto the GSI).

GSI Qualifications:

- Enrolled in graduate program in some relevant discipline (including natural resources and environment, public policy, economics, business, or engineering)

- Prior study or equivalent knowledge required:
- Multivariate calculus
- Probability and statistics
- Microeconomics

- Additional prior study or equivalent knowledge helpful but not required:
- Modeling and optimization
- Decision theory
- Stochastic processes
- Game theory

- Good intuition for communicating insights and applications of these analytic methods, both with and without reliance on formal notation

- Enthusiasm for teaching and good communication skills are essential; prior teaching experience is helpful but not specifically required.

- Having taken this course before is helpful but not necessary.


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