Our Researcher Spotlight Series profiles DataLab affiliated faculty, staff, graduate students and postdoctoral scholars across disciplines to demonstrate the diversity of our community and highlight their amazing work.
Savannah Hunter is a Research and Policy Associate at the UC Berkeley Labor Center, providing research and technical assistance to worker-centered organizations such as labor unions and social justice groups. She considers her time working with DataLab during her PhD, where she learned to use data science tools and methods and collaborated across disciplines on meaningful data-driven projects, extremely valuable for her career.
As a sociologist of work, Savannah researches issues of job quality: worker experience, health and safety, and how irregular hours and scheduling affect low-wage and hourly workers. Working with data is challenging in these areas, because there is often a lack of quality data; so part of Savannah’s job is to make good use of what’s available in order to inform the public debate around low-wage work and support organizations that assist workers in achieving good quality jobs. “[Work] is a huge part of our lives that we all have a connection to, and if we are going to be working for most of our lives, we need good quality jobs for all people,” she argues. “[At the labor center] we study low-wage workers: folks who deserve the dignity of a good paying, quality job. That’s what really motivates me.”
We as social scientists have a lot to offer [to data science]…because our training is in how to design thoughtful research questions based on our theories of the social world. So we use these methods thoughtfully…with feminist and humanistic values. There is a lot to offer in both directions.”
Savannah notes that employment, where you work for and generate profit for someone other than yourself, has been our predominant economic system for only a couple of centuries; and the pandemic really heightened inequalities within the capitalist system broadly. “This is what crises do: they make mundane things suddenly seem very obvious, like the fact that work was inaccessible and people had to commute a really long time, that work was unsafe…or [that there is] inequality in the unpaid labor mothers and caregivers provide,” she points out. “These were problems before…but these kinds of crises hopefully present opportunities for change.” She is encouraged to see so many workers recently standing up to abuse in the workplace and fighting for safer and better-paid working conditions.
Many of the skills that Savannah uses regularly in her research and work with the Labor Center were developed during her time at Davis, where she collaborated extensively with DataLab, attending workshops and participating in an incubator program that gave her time to dive deep into data science methods and develop collaborations and project management skills alongside a small interdisciplinary cohort. “I think DataLab is one of the few places that you could go to learn these steps that are actually really vital to doing the work you want to do,” she states. “It feels so inclusive; I think people would feel that data science isn’t for them, but the DataLab starts from multiple points of expertise so you can find something that will benefit you. You don’t have to be an expert.”
Sociology is a broad discipline, and in Savannah’s view, that opens the door for a lot of experimentation with methods in the field: “I definitely see folks using data science methods in ways they never did before, like text mining and topic modeling, and doing social network analysis. I think DataLab makes these methods more accessible to social scientists and humanists,” she argues. But for Savannah, it’s not just that sociologists can benefit from data science methods: “We as social scientists have a lot to offer too, because our training is in how to design thoughtful research questions based on our theories of the social world. So we use these methods thoughtfully…and we have a lot to offer in reverse—to data science, with feminist and humanistic values. There is a lot to offer in both directions.”
Click here to learn more about Savannah and her work with the UC Berkeley Labor Center.