Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Undergrad Research Opportunities: My Summer Learning About Prisons.

Happy August, undergrads, high-schoolers, and general public at-large. Soon school will be back in session, a few hundred incoming first-years will be joining us on campus, and in the mean time a few-dozen Saint Mike's undergraduates are wrapping up their summers of research.

Two organizations, the VPAA and SSRC, offer opportunities for undergraduates to pursue research on a topic of their choice during the summer months. These students receive a stipend, work one-on-one with a professor/adviser, and can present their findings at the symposium in the spring. Throughout the summer there are lunches that students can attend, a sort of forum for their experiences where they can exchange ideas and learning about others' projects.

Under the advising of professor Patrick Walsh in the econ department, this summer I set out to learn about how prison privatization interacts with other aspects of the justice system. Specifically, I asked how the growth of private prison populations have impacted the length of sentences served for certain crimes, and then I asked what variables predict both the level of private prison populations and the growth of those same populations.

At the moment, I'm working on analyzing the regressions of the data we collected, and finishing a first draft of the paper. In the next two weeks or so the paper should be done, and hopefully I'll present my findings at some point in the fall and maybe one other time (and I'll share my findings here, as well).

More than just learning about prisons, I've really enjoyed the pursuit of research, working one-on-one with a professor, and learning to appreciate the process of research in the field of economics. Based on this summer, my aspirations for the future have shifted more towards the pursuit of academia, because I've really found a passion for research and academic inquiry that I knew I had before, but hadn't necessarily considered could be my future (looks like I have to take the GRE's, after all).

Being on the brink of my final year as an undergrad, what I've learned this summer is both exciting and sobering. The world is a big place, and there are many students with lots of experience and many backgrounds competing to get into Masters and Ph.D. programs. I hope that I am able to pursue academia further, but I know that the future is plural and hard to predict; so, all I can say is lo que sera, sera, and cheers to the upcoming fall semester.

Thanks for reading!

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