ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT | OCTOBER 2015
KU major: Economics; Class of 2014
Current occupation: Research Assistant, Kauffman Foundation
Research Mentor: Donna Ginther, Ph.D, Department of Economics
Q: Describe the undergraduate research/creative experience that you had while at KU:
A: My experience with research as an undergraduate was through the McNair Scholars Program, an honors thesis, and as a Research Leader. McNair pushed me into starting my first research project; I started by collecting ideas for research and approaching possible mentors within my department. After finding a great mentor, Dr. Donna Ginther, I began researching my honors thesis, which explored the effect of education funding on student’s educational outcomes. For me, this included synthesizing multiple local and federal data sources and running statistical analyses. After completion of my research, I presented it at KU’s Undergraduate Research Symposium, McNair’s Undergraduate Research Conference, and the National Conference on Undergraduate Research. During my senior year, I also worked with the Center for Undergraduate Research as a Research Leader, helping other students to start their research experience and continue their current work.
Q: What do you think was the most important thing you learned while doing undergraduate research?
A: One of the most important things I learned as an undergraduate researcher was how to communicate the (sometimes) complex work I was doing to people who had no background in it. This involved explaining not only technical topics – like regression analysis – but less complex topics – like what it really means to be economically disadvantaged.
Q: What advice do you have for undergraduates who might be interested in doing research or creative scholarship?
A: Start early. Research does not require you to be an expert in the field, but to have an itch to understand something in depth. Find a topic, find a mentor, and get researching. Don’t be afraid to go outside your major; most topics have multiple ways to approach and understand them.
Q: Do you use any of the skills or perspectives gained doing research in your current occupation? How so?
A: The two most important skills I still use are data analysis and communication skills. I use my skills as a data analyst daily to better understand the nature of entrepreneurship and education. These analysis skills, mixed with my ability to communicate topics and data, have allowed me to build multiple tools to help the lay person understand the complex issues I research.
Q: Many undergraduate researchers are making decisions about what to do after they graduate from KU. Having been in those shoes, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then? Do you have any advice?
A: My main regret is that I did not start sooner, and put more research achievements under my belt before graduation, but this does not mean you cannot start your senior year (like I did). As for advice, remember that interests change. Do not think that just because you’re researching something today you can decide something else is interesting tomorrow. While education was my undergraduate focus, I work a lot on health and economic mobility research now.