International Comparative Studies T'19
Current PositionData Science and Public Policy Master’s Student, Georgetown University
While I was in high school, I did a research project on girls in STEM and I was looking for a way to continue in that realm of research at Duke, so I was really excited when I found the STEM for All team. Our team focused on strategies to address the underrepresentation of women and minorities in STEM majors.
I joined in the team’s second year, so they had already done background research and focus groups and were beginning a randomized controlled trial. We aimed to test whether an active learning style in classes would increase women and minority students’ feeling of self-efficacy, or belief in their ability to succeed, when compared to a traditional, passive lecture style.
This was my first exposure to creating and revising an IRB protocol, which I’ve continued to do a lot of in my career after Duke (including during my time at NORC at the University of Chicago, where I worked as a research associate). I had to learn what it means to work with human subjects and learn how to really fine-tune an experiment’s design. We taught short classes in different topic areas using active and passive styles, surveying participants before and after. But first, we had a lot to think through: what exactly should the lessons for the students look like? What questions should we include in the survey that would be good indicators of self-efficacy?
Once we went through the process of the experiment, it came time to clean the data. We spent a lot of time discussing how we wanted to break down and analyze the data we collected. We wanted to group subjects by both gender and race, but we didn’t have enough racial representation to do that meaningfully. When we grouped by gender, we then had to discuss what claims we could really make based on those findings.
While I was working on my team, I began to realize that I was really interested in statistics. I had learned to use R (software and programming language for statistical analysis) through the project, and I wanted to continue using that skillset to better understand social issues. A faculty member encouraged me to apply for the Data+ program, and although I was intimidated by the idea of working with “hard,” quantitative data so intensively, it turned out to be a great experience for me.
I definitely gained skills through my Bass Connections and Data+ teams that I have continued to use in research, from IRB and experimental design to data analysis to interdisciplinary collaboration. My Bass Connections project is still on my resume! Overall, having extensive undergraduate research experience boosted my career immensely.
The project also helped spark my interest in the social and policy implications of data. I think a lot of people underestimate the social context of data. It was important for me to learn about collecting and analyzing data in context, as well as what makes quality data. Without Bass Connections and Data+, I might not have pursued the graduate program I’m in now!
See Katharyn and other team members present their research at the EHDx talks on April 19, 2017.