Applying statistical concepts to real-world problems, Lloyd Grieger keeps his students thinking after class ends

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Lloyd Grieger was honored with the Lex Hixon ’63 Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Social Sciences. (Photo by Michael Marsland)

The winner of the Lex Hixon ’63 Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Social Sciences, Lloyd Grieger not only helps students develop analytical skills, but also to apply them to public policy-making in the real world. Their analysis and problem solving doesn’t end with class, however. As one student said, “Professor Grieger successfully gets us not only to engage the material for a class period, but also to care deeply about it even after we leave the room.” Another praised him for being “one of the clearest, most engaging, and accessible professors I have had the pleasure of studying with. He is respected, appreciated, but most tellingly, adored by his students.” Just as he inspires his students to continue thinking about the material when class is over, Grieger also reminds them that learning continues long after they graduate.

Courses: “Poverty and Social Welfare Policy in the U.S.” and “Applied Quantitative Analysis”

What excites you about teaching Yale undergraduates?

The thing that excites me most about teaching Yale undergraduates is that they are just so sharp and so resourceful. They really want to immerse themselves in the material: They take the material very seriously and they really want to extend it outside of the classroom, too. That makes it fun to teach in the classroom but also to be involved in their lives outside of the classroom, in terms of their extracurricular activities as well as discussing their professional goals.

Why is it important for students to study what you teach?

I think it’s important for students to study sociology because sociological issues are some of the most important issues of the day. I teach a class, for example, on poverty and inequality, and students who enter that class are really excited to learn about policies, but also about what the real world is like: what it’s like to live in poverty, what the social construction of poverty is, and how to put that together with the goal of hopefully making effective policies that can help alleviate poverty and make the world a better place.

I also teach statistics, and I think it’s really important for Yale undergraduates to have a background in statistics and empirical analysis, even for students who are a little bit shy about math. Statistics is the language of public policy. In order to engage in public policy, you need to be a consumer of that language. So I enjoy teaching students who are really excited about empirical analysis, but I also enjoy teaching students who are in the course just to get a little bit of background so they can be good consumers of that material.

If there is one thing you want your students to learn from you, what would that be?

There are so many things that I want the students to learn, but perhaps the one main thing I want them to learn is how to become a lifelong learner — to know that being a learner doesn’t end when you are finished with college. I hope they are being equipped with the tools while they are here to teach themselves, to be self-directed once they leave here. My goal is to plant the seed for a love of learning in my students so that they know how to take that into their lives and make it useful for themselves when they leave Yale.

What do your students teach you?

My students teach me a great deal. In fact, whenever I end the class, I find myself telling them, sincerely, that I’m worried that I got more out of the class than they did — an engaged, sharp, immersive experience. They are so enthusiastic about the material that I can’t help but be enthusiastic about it, too. It makes me a better teacher, and it makes me a better researcher. Their enthusiasm reminds me why the issues I study are important to me and to the world, too.

What advice would you give a Yale undergraduate about his or her time here?

The one sort of unifying piece of advice that I give to my undergraduate students is that they should try their best to live intentionally. These four years that you have here are really short, and you really do have the world at your fingertips, and it’s such a shame to waste it. It’s important to leave room for flexibility, and it’s important to leave room for experimentation in terms of your academic interests and to try things that you don’t like.   Living intentionally allows you to leave room for flexibility. I think it would be a shame to float through this experience without fully taking advantage of every opportunity that you can here at Yale.

For the most part, I think students take that very seriously, but it’s important for me to remind them to do that, I think. 

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