Grant renewed to extend teaching fundamentals of genetics to social scientists

October 25, 2022

Contact: Jon Meerdink (meerdink@umich.edu)

ANN ARBOR — The renewal of a grant from the National Institute on Aging will fund a workshop to teach social scientists the fundamentals of genetics for another five years.

The Genomics for Social Scientists workshop was launched in 2017 in hopes of helping social scientists better utilize genetic data that had been collected with survey data. Surveys like Health and Retirement Study routinely collect that data, but unless social scientists are trained in analyzing genetic data, it can be of minimal use.

“We really saw that for the data to be useful, both for genetic and social science researchers, we needed to cross train,” said Jessica Faul, one of the members of the three-person team that launched the workshop. “We either needed to teach biologists and statistical geneticists social science or we needed to teach the social scientist genetics. We decided to start by teaching genetics to social scientists.”

The result was a five-day workshop aimed at giving social scientists the basic structure they need to work with genetic data, strengthening their own research while promoting better collaboration with researchers in other fields. So far, the results of the training have been promising.

“Our participants have published something on the order of 300 papers after attending our workshop,” said Faul. We also see them regularly presenting at conferences that integrate genetics and social sciences, which I think has also brought more disciplines to the field.”

The grant renewal will allow Faul and her colleagues to continue to build out the workshop and train more social scientists on key tools for genetic research while adding more training for emerging methodology. In addition, the team plans to develop a dedicated website for the workshop, allowing people who may not be able to attend the workshop in person or virtually to still benefit from some of the training.

“We are creating a whole separate website and bibliography to showcase some of the training and also create a series of online modules or smaller soundbite-style lectures so that people who don’t even attend the course can learn some of the basic concepts.”

The Genomics for Social Scientists Introduction workshop will begin accepting applications for its 2023 session in March. The session will take place virtually from July 31 to August 4, 2023.  Applications for the course on Epigenetics will open on October 31, 2022 and will close on January 6, 2023.  The Epigenetics course will be hosted at the University of Michigan from June 12-16, 2023. Visit https://hrs.isr.umich.edu/genomics-workshop for more information.