Teaching

Students are central to the Human Nature Lab. Graduate and undergraduate students, and post-doctoral fellows, find diverse opportunities in many areas, from data science to genetic analyses, from observational to experimental studies, from software development to global health field placements, and much more.

Meetings & Events

The Human Nature Lab hosts events throughout the term that are open to all participants. All upcoming events are listed below.

In addition to special events, Lab meetings occur most Thursdays from 12:30-2pm in the Human Nature Lab at 17 Hillhouse Ave, Suite 393A. Lunch is provided.

The Yale Institute for Network Science also hosts events and their seminar schedule can be viewed on the YINS website.

View Past Events

Courses

Other Courses

  • Sociology 126 Health of the Public: Medicine and Disease in Social Context

    Spring 2020 Course Lectures

    Past Lectures (Spring 2015)

    Syllabus

    Past Exams

    FAQs

    Course Content

    Q: I’ve never taken a Sociology course before; will Health of the Public (HOP) be a good fit for me?

    A: Yes. If you have any interest in the relationship between health and society, the origins of health, and the role of medical care in our lives, it will be a terrific fit. In past years, students from diverse majors, such as sociology, statistics and data science, psychology, fine arts, English, history, political science, anthropology, economics, applied math, philosophy, biology, chemistry, physics, EEB, MBB, history of science, philosophy, and many other majors have enrolled in, and enjoyed, the class.

    Q: I’m interested in public health; will this be a good fit for me?

    A: Yes. The readings span the medical, public health, and social science literatures, and they reflect both qualitative and quantitative approaches. In many ways, this course serves as an introduction to the field of public health.

    Q: Does SOCY 126 count for Global Health?

    A: Yes. It is also Global Health 140.

    Q: Will the slides from the lectures be available online?

    A: Yes. We’ll periodically distribute the slides in pdf form online. Probably, the slides will be uploaded a few days after each lecture.

    Q: How much reading is there for the class?

    A: Readings from books and articles average about 60 pages per session (range 15-200), or 120 pages per week. It is our sense that this is not an excessive amount of reading; that this amount is typical of other undergraduate classes; and that the amount of time required (based on past student surveys) is not unreasonable. Plus, we hope the carefully chosen and diverse readings will engage your interest and prompt deep understanding of the topics at hand. We’ve got everything from sex to robots in the readings.

    Q: I understand that Dr. Christakis tinkers with the class?

    A: Yes. Much of what students like so much about the class will remain unchanged – including the types of readings and the entertaining lectures that Dr. Christakis offers. But we also try to make the class more stimulating and enjoyable each year, if we can, by freshening up the readings and by experimenting with various technical innovations.

    For instance, Dr. Christakis had tried a number of innovations to make better use of the lecture time and increase student engagement with the material. These innovations are modeled in part on processes advocated by Professor Eric Mazur (who teaches physics at Harvard); and they are prompted by the recognition that teaching should change as technology changes and as new research emerges regarding adult learning. [For some more details, see E. Mazur, Peer Instruction, Prentice-Hall, 1997; and D. Bruff, Teaching with Classroom Response Systems: Creating Active Learning Environments, Jossey-Bass, 2009.]

    Briefly, it is fair to ask what the objectives of lectures in a large class are. On the one hand, there is an authenticity to being in a class and to watching someone lecture in real time that helps in the transfer of information. Plus, having to get out of bed (even in the late afternoon!) and go to lecture (even on science hill) “concentrates the mind.” And thinking about the material while taking notes facilitates learning for many people. Dr. Christakis enjoys giving lectures (and, actually, he enjoys listening to lectures given by others).

    On the other hand, in some cases, lectures can amount to nothing more than the ‘transfer of the professor’s lecture notes to the student’s notebook, without going through the minds of either.’ Plus, given new technologies such as cell phones and laptops, it is very tempting to students to come to class and spend time checking their Facebook pages or emailing their friends or even shopping (which really does distress Dr. Christakis) – which seems a waste of time for them, and a distraction to their neighbors.

    Hence, the challenge is to make good use of scarce lecture time and to keep the benefits of lecture, while supplementing the experience in ways that exploit new technologies and make it more stimulating and instructive.

    For example, during class, Dr. Christakis may sometimes use “clickers” to ask students conceptual questions during lecture and encourage them to discuss their answers with their neighbors – a form of “peer instruction” that most students find both enjoyable and compelling. Clickers can also be used to ask the students to vote on various sorts of questions, in a way that elicits a deeper understanding of the topics at hand. It is also possible that Dr. Christakis will employ some new software developed in his lab (called “breadboard” and available here) in class so as to be able to conduct and demonstrate social science principles in real time (this depends in part on the size of the class).

    Q: Some of the readings look old, like from before I was born. Why is that? Is Dr. Christakis too lazy to update the syllabus?

    A: The readings are from as early as 1971 and as recent as this year. About 10% of the readings are updated each year, but some of them are either classics that are useful or fun to read, or are still the best examples of the topic of interest, and so they live on in the syllabus. Not every old thing is clueless.

    Q: Will Dr. Christakis discuss social networks in this class, and will this topic be covered too much or too little?

    A: It will be just right.

    Q: Do many pre-meds take the class?

    A: Perhaps 20-25% of the students taking the class are pre-meds.

    Q: I am a pre-med and am wondering whether this class will help me with the MCAT.

    A: Yes, it will. Many students over the years have written to Dr. Christakis after taking that irritating test to say that they recognized topics and even readings and questions from having taken Health of the Public.

    Q: Do I need any statistical or quantitative background for this class?

    A: No. We’ll be considering how social scientists, epidemiologists, public health experts, and doctors use theory to understand health outcomes and how they make “causal inferences” based on observational or experimental data; however, students are not expected to have in-depth knowledge of social science methods or statistics.

    Q: There was an equation in one of the slides and this scared me. I know you’re going to pull something sneaky and ask me to calculate this for the midterms or final.

    A: No. We absolutely will not ask you to calculate Gini coefficients, Yitzhaki inequality measures, or age-adjusted mortality for the midterms or final. We do, however, want you to understand the intuition behind these kinds of equations and why it might be useful for public health reasons to try and calculate things like this.

    Q: Does Dr. Christakis really mean it when he says to come to office hours?

    A: Yes. Dr. Christakis is very engaged at office hours (Thursdays, 4:00–6:00 pm, at 17 Hillhouse, third floor, during the spring semester). You can make an appointment or drop in. Oftentimes, a conversation gets going among a bunch of students who have dropped by. The best thing you can do to help Dr. Christakis get to know you is to come to office hours.

    Logistics and Grading

    Q: Can I take this course Cr/D/F?

    A: Yes.

    Q: I’m a senior, and will be working on my thesis this term, but it’s due around the time of one of the SOCY 126 midterms. Can I have an extension on the midterm?

    A: No, sorry. We recognize that a number of majors have theses due just before or just after our midterms. Our sense is that experienced seniors are in a position to take the midterms and also complete their theses.

    Q: I am worried that my grandmother might die during final exams, requiring me to miss the test. What can I do to prevent such a calamity?

    A: Epidemiological analyses (by Mike Adams, published in the Annals of Improbable Research and available here) have shown that the best thing a student can do to prevent the untimely mortality of their grandmother during finals week is to keep up with the material and do well on the mid-terms. “Overall, a student who is failing a class and has a final coming up is more than 50 times more likely to lose a family member than is a student not facing any exams,” Adams found. Adams theorizes that “Family members literally worry themselves to death over the outcome of their relatives’ performance on each exam.” In Sociology 126, you will learn some tools to analyze findings like these and save your grandmother.

    Q: The course looks interesting, but I don’t really have room in my schedule; can I audit?

    A: Only if space allows, and with permission of the instructor; please defer to those around you who are taking it for a requirement.

    Q: How are students assigned to sections?

    A: We do online sectioning the first and second weeks of class. Given all the moving parts (e.g., uncertain enrollment numbers and difficulty booking classrooms), this is a difficult challenge, but we offer many section times and, in the end, virtually all students find a time that works well for them. The TF’s for the class may come from several departments and schools in the university, and we often are fortunate to have some TF’s from the School of Public Health, the Medical School, and the Law School (though this varies from year to year).

    Q: I’m a graduate student; can I take this class?

    A: Yes. But graduate students taking SOCY 126 for credit should see the instructor in order to arrange different requirements.

    Q: Why is there no course-pack?

    A: Given very low demand in prior years, there is no course packet available for purchase. Readings are available online, and also linked via the course website for you to print out. A course packet of readings is also on reserve at Sterling Library.

    Q: I have a class that overlaps completely with one of the weekly lectures. Can I catch up via the podcast (if one is offered my year)? I promise to be diligent about keeping up with the work.

    A: No. We’re sorry, but this cannot be accommodated.

    Q: What is the historical grade distribution?

    A: In the past few years, roughly 20-25% get an A, 20-30% get an A-, 15-25% get a B+, 10-20% get a B, and 5-10% get a C range grade.

    Q: This is a large class with many sections. Are students in other sections being graded the same as me?

    A: Previous students have been worried about consistency across TF’s in grading. All TF’s follow the same grading procedure for evaluating your contributions to section. We’ll also take any remaining TF variation between sections into account on your final grade, by using the mid-term exams as a standard for norming (that is, if two TF’s give very different ratings but the students in their sections have similar performance in the midterms, we will carefully examine the situation to make sure the TF is not being harsh). Dr. Christakis personally reviews all grading and assigns final grades.

    Q: How can I be sure my exam will be graded fairly?

    A: Because we are obsessive, fanatical nuts. We often study our own grading using statistical methods.

    For example, one year, we analyzed whether any irrelevant extra-textual factors predicted students’ midterm scores. We characterized answers as follows: we eyeballed the percentage of a page filled by each answer to questions that were supposed to require less than a page to answer, ranging from 30-150% (yes, answers extending halfway down the verso); the mean was 86%. We measured whether students wrote in pen or pencil (exactly 50% wrote in pen) or whether they used cursive (only 15% did). None of these affected the grade. We also have wondered whether scores improved as graders moved through the alphabetized stack, which, if real and significant in magnitude, might suggest biased grading, e.g., increasing forgiveness as exhaustion/disillusion sets in among the graders. There seemed to be a slight effect in this regard, so we now randomize the order of items each grader deals with (i.e., they are not in alphabetical order) and make sure stacks are no bigger than a grader can bring fresh eyes to.

    In addition, it has long been our practice to grade exams anonymously (we have procedures for doing this). Hence, the graders do not know who you are when the questions are graded.

  • Sociology 554 Human Nature Lab Workshop Syllabus
  • Sociology 636b Topics in Biosocial Science Syllabus
  • SOM Management 573 Network Interventions Syllabus
  • SOM Management 874 Networks and Health Syllabus

Professor Christakis' Policy for Letters of Recommendation