Course objectives

Data is everywhere. Instructor
Juan Tellez
343 Gambrell Hall
Office hours: Sign up here.

Tuesdays, Thursdays
August 22–December 06, 2019
08:30-09:45 AM
133 WMBB

Policymakers, academics, journalists, sports analysts, and many others are using data every day to make decisions. Data isYes, I know “data” is plural. I don’t care.

also being used to make causal claims about the world – to argue that taking some course of action will improve or worsen our lives.

In this class, you will learn how to do data analysis and how to think causally.

You will spend a lot of time getting off the ground in R, a powerful and in-demand programming language that will allow you to manipulate, summarize, and visualize the data that you care about.

You will also develop a language and set of tools for determining whether, and how, we can know that one thing causes another using data.

This course is meant for students without any statistics or programming background. We will emphasize hands-on application with software and intuition-building over statistical theory and mathematical proofs.The foundation you develop here can be built upon in future methods courses.

By the end of this course, you will be able to:

  1. Feel comfortable manipulating data in R
  2. Craft effective visualizations of patterns in data
  3. Draw causal diagrams and identify challenges to causal claims
  4. Understand the basics of causal inference

Course materials

All materials for this course are free and online.


Articles and other readings

Outside of the textbooks, I will post links to additional articles and videos on this site.

I also recommend subscribing to the R Weekly newsletter. This weekly email is full of helpful tutorials about how to do stuff with R.

R and RStudio

You will do all of your analysis with the open source (and free!) programming language R. You will use RStudio as the main program to access R.

Online help

I have been programming in R for years and still find myself Googling how to do basic things that I’ve forgotten about. Other times, I encounter new coding problems where I can’t quite come up with a good solution.

Fortunately there are tons of online resources to help you. The most important is StackOverflow (a Q&A site with hundreds of thousands of answers to all sorts of programming questions). I will point to others as the semester advances.

Course Policies

Communicating with me

Slack will be our main mode of communication. We have a class Slack channel where anyone in the class can ask questions and anyone can answer. Ask questions about coding (e.g., “how do I summarize multiple variables at once?”) or class logistics (e.g., “I can’t find the reading”) in the class Slack workspace.

I will monitor Slack regularly, and you should all do so as well. You’ll have similar questions as your peers, and you’ll likely be able to answer other peoples’ questions too. I will also post announcements and interesting/helpful content on Slack as the semester progresses.

If you would like to speak with me about something that only pertains to you (e.g., your grades, academic advice, reading suggestions), you can sign up for office hours on Calendly. If there’s a time-sensitive emergency (e.g., car exploded) you can email me. Everything else goes in the Slack.

Honor Code

Be nice. Don’t cheat. The Carolinian Creed is in effect in this class and all others at the University. I will treat violations seriously and urge all students to become familiar with its terms set out here. If you have doubts, it is your responsibility to ask about the Creed’s application.

Cell Phones and Laptops

Counseling & Psychiatry Services

Life at USC can be complicated and challenging. You might feel overwhelmed, experience anxiety or depression, or struggle with relationships or family responsibilities. Counseling and Psychiatry Services provides confidential support for students who are struggling with mental health and emotional challenges. Please do not hesitate to contact CPS for assistance—getting help is a smart and good thing to do.

Assignments and grades

You can find descriptions for all the assignments on the assignments page.

Assignment Points Percent
Problem sets (10 × 20) 200 40.0%
Midterm 150 30.0%
Final 150 30.0%
Total 500

Grade Range Grade Range
A 93–100% C 73–76%
A− 90–92% C− 70–72%
B+ 87–89% D+ 67–69%
B 83–86% D 63–66%
B− 80–82% D− 60–62%
C+ 77–79% F < 60%


Cali, Colombia

Once you have read this entire syllabus and the assignments page, please post a picture of your hometown to the Slack (2 bonus points).


This course site is built using Hugo and Blogdown. I use the ath-tufte-hugo theme by Andrew Heiss. I also borrow more than a few teaching ideas from his syllabus.

In terms of content, I also draw inspiration from syllabus by Nick C. Huntington-Klein, Richard McElreath, and others.