STEP EXPERIENCE

My name is Olamide Bola and I am senior in the economics department. For my STEP Project I conducted research on the effects of race and skin-tone on standard of living. Additionally, I engaged in activities that will prepare me for graduate school and a career in academia such as networking with academics, attending an academic conference and visiting and touring NYU Stern’s pre-doctoral program where I was able to meet and chat with faculty.

Prior to completing my STEP Project I was interested in completing research and had previously had experience as a research assistant. However, as a result of my STEP Project I had the opportunity to complete a research project independently. Because of this opportunity I was able to craft my research question, collect and create datasets, and work with a particularly large dataset. The experience I conducting research emboldened my interest in attaining a PhD. My experience conducting researching was not only incredible because I built upon technical skills—working with programing languages such as R and State— but also because I believe research is important to answering questions about inequality and social justice issues. I felt as if I was answering important questions by attaining results from my study. Importantly, I also realized that economics is not the only method to answering the questions and now I am seeking the field that will fit me best.

From networking with other social scientist it opened my eyes to the many ways research can be conducted and the many avenues through which inequality can be studied. In particular, I attended the Association of Black Sociologists’ conference where the theme was “Blackness in the City”. I was able to watch social scientist present and network and talk with them about their experience and findings. Additionally, this opportunity gave me a chance to experience research that lied at the intersection of race and theory and utilized social science methodology that is relevant to the research I conduct. For instance, I watched as social scientist observe research questions about poverty, race and feminism through a lenses of female hip-hop artists such as Cardi B.

Furthermore, my knowledge of the social science was expanded as I was introduced sociological research. Sociological research often attempts to answer many of the questions economics does but through a different framework. I was able to meet an alumnus of The Ohio State University who was an economics major as an undergrad but is now a sociology PhD student at Stanford University. And speak to her about my interests and how sociology may be suited for my interests as well and now I am also considering sociology PhD programs in addition to economics.

On the other hand, visiting NYU Stern was also transformational as it gave me an opportunity to meet research assistants and faculty and observe the advanced research they were carrying out. It brought into perspective the difficulties and obstacles one can face in attaining a PhD. It is a long process and I still have more preparation to fulfill until I’m ready. NYU Stern also provided me the opportunity to see if an economics PhD program is a good fit for my interest. Ultimately, I the experience was transformational because I came away with tangible knowledge and skills that have increased my readiness for a career as a social scientist.

Finally, STEP gave me the opportunity to complete my own independent research project. Whilst I have completed research projects this was my first time completing one independently whilst using large datasets. For my project I collected data Census data from 1850-1920 and collected data that detailed the number of people that identified as Black and “Mulatto”. I then merged this data with contemporary data on median household income, per capita income and and unemployment rate to capture the effect of race and skin-tone on income and unemployment. While the experience was daunting I was able to deepen my data analytical skills. But it also opened up my eyes to the challenges faced when conducting research including difficulty finding reliable data, the costs, and the need to be knowledgeable about different types of economic models.

 

(Me and faculty member at NYU Stern)

This experience was important because it gave me a chance to face the realities of a career in research. Conducting research can be an isolating, long and difficult experience. Additionally, attaining a PhD is no easy feat. However, I was excited to be able to interact with PhD holders. Networking with faculty was incredibly exciting and affirmed my commitment to enrolling in PhD programs and working within academia. I think that questions concerning inequality and social justice are incredibly important and that research can provide insight into how such issues can and should be solved.

Additionally, networking with both sociologists and economics expanded my view of social scientist and gave me an opportunity to experience social science research through a new lens. Since STEP, I have been networking with economist and sociologist and applying to research assistant and pre-doctoral programs of both types. Finally, getting to work independently and build research skills was incredibly rewarding and these skills will be valuable post-undergrad. Finally, it was helpful to network with academics and see research presented. I believe this experience was a great compliment to my undergraduate career and provided a lot of insight on the fields I am interested in and narrowed down my research interest. Ultimately, I am confident that in the future I will be a social scientist.