STEP Reflection

Name: Eric Spurlino

Type of Project: Research Experience

Brief Description:

For my STEP Signature Project, I planned and began executing an experiment in economics in order to learn more about the effects of minimum wage increases on worker productivity. Over the course of the summer, I learned how to program such an experiment, and then began running sessions using student participants in a laboratory setting. While sessions are still ongoing, I have some preliminary results and my research skills have improved significantly.

What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

A transformation that occurred while completing my STEP experience was a transformation of my view of myself. Previously, I had known that research in economics interested me, I had little idea whether I would enjoy or even be capable of completing my own original research. While my research experience was not without its difficulties and obstacles, I learned that I am very capable of creating research, and that it is something I want to pursue as a career. In the beginning of my experience, I was apprehensive and not very confident about my research endeavours. I switched ideas and plans frequently and was unsure of my capacity as a researcher. Throughout my project, I began to conquer more and more of the obstacles that I faced in working on my project. Another transformation that took place was in my assumptions about research in general. When I first ran an analysis on my preliminary data, I was devastated that there was no significant “treatment effect” between treatments. My assumption previously was that research was all about finding positive results, and this experience gave me a more mature sense of what the goals of research are.

What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?

lab-photo

The “laboratory” my experiments were conducted in

One event that led to this transformation in my view of myself was when I ran the first session of my experiment, the pilot session. In this session, I was faced with proctoring an experiment in front of real-life subjects. Prior to that session, my experiment was still an idea. Although I had coded the experiment for weeks, what I had done to that point wasn’t really research–all I had so far were my hypotheses and lines of code. By actually running my experiment on subjects, I began to identify myself as a researcher. At first this transformation was a bit rocky. Proctoring the pilot session, my voice was at times shaky and it was somewhat apparent I had little idea what I was doing. Quickly, however, I gained confidence in my role as a researcher. This came to fruition in multiple ways–I was more confident proctoring my experiment, I was more confident analysing my data, and I was more confident reaching out to others for advice on my research.

A number of relationships also led to this transformation. For example, conversations over the course of the summer with my advisors Professor Healy and Professor Coffman led to the second realization mentioned above that research is more than just finding positive results. While I was panicked that there was no statistically significant difference between my treatment groups, they quickly resolved these concerns by showing me that negative results can be just as interesting as positive ones. In fact, it seems like in my project, negative results are more interesting than positive results. Through discussions with my two advisors, I was able to see more of what the research world is like and through this I was able to gain confidence in my view of myself as a researcher.

Another activity that occurred during my STEP Signature Project was running analysis on my data. Being one of the last steps one does in the research process, this was an exciting step to reach. While my data was still incomplete, as running sessions took longer than expected due to scheduling issues, using statistical methods to derive answers from my data took my research abilities to a new level. Up until this point, I had become more confident in my role as a data gatherer and research planner, but this step cemented my view of myself as a researcher. By completing all of these steps, I was able to successfully plan, execute, and analyse a full-scale research project. While my initial hypotheses were ultimately rejected through this analysis, I had found answers to questions that people hadn’t found yet, and that was the ultimate reward of this project.

Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?

This transformation in my view of myself as an appreciator of research into a creator of research is extremely significant for my future. Now that I am able to view myself as a creator of economic research, I am confident in my future plans for my life and career. This experience has led me to decide on attending graduate school in economics, so I can continue this transformation and conduct research in economics for the rest of my life. Furthermore, I now know I specifically want to study experimental methods in economics, an important distinction as I begin to apply for specific graduate programs. Without this STEP experience, I would still be unsure of what I want my future to look like. By allowing me to practice my own research as an undergraduate now, my STEP experience has transformed me personally to be prepared for a future in academia.

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