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Mathematics (Statistics)
Junior Amelia Conine

Statistics Is Not As Boring As It May Seem

At every stage in life you reach a point where you have to make a decision about what the next stage is going to be and how you are going to transition from one chapter to the next. The decision of whether or not to do graduate school is my next big step, and I have been fortunate enough to be exposed to the life of a graduate student before having to make any concrete decisions. The IE Internship Program has been a wonderful experience that I am so thankful to have been able to be a part of. Not only has it answered and uncovered a lot of the unknowns about graduate school, but I have met many amazing people throughout the semester.

My graduate student mentor, Claudia Masferrer, has been extremely helpful in showing me what it is like to be in graduate school. She is a graduate student in the Statistics department but is also part of the Population Research Center, which is part of the College of Liberal Arts. Her research is primarily in applying mathematics, specifically statistics, to the demographic problems related to inequality, poverty measurement, its alleviation and its relationship with social conflicts such as violence, migration, and urban development. Throughout the semester I have gone to many lectures and presentations with her about statistics and also sociology, since her field of study deals with researching and understanding populations. Not only have I learned a lot about what Claudia researches in particular, but I have also realized how many different ways I can apply mathematics to different topics of interest and research.

Like many students in this program, I am confused about what I want to do with my degree or what it is I want to get out of going to graduate school other than furthering my education. Although I may not be as interested in population research as Claudia is, it has made me realize just how broad mathematics and statistics are when being applied to real-life research. There are so many different things that I can choose to do or study and still use my degree in mathematics. I am really excited about finding out exactly what it is that I am interested in focusing on in graduate school. Claudia loves what she researches so much that it makes me hopeful for finding something like that for myself and actually feeling like I am using my knowledge to help society as a whole.

Throughout the semester, Claudia and I have been working on different areas of statistics and applying them to different things that I would not normally have the opportunity to do in my undergraduate classes. One thing in particular that I know will be extremely useful for the future is getting to be familiar with the statistical software program called STATA. It is the software that Claudia uses in the Population Research Center, and it is a very commonly used program amongst statisticians. The first thing we did in order to use the program was to go to the United States Census and obtain a data base we could work with for the semester. We picked many variables of interest to both her and I, including educational attainment, salary, number of inhabitants in the household, poverty measurement, and of course age and gender. With these different variables, we ran many programs to see if we could find correlations amongst variables. For instance we ran a program comparing educational attainment with salary, and like what would be expected we found that there was significant evidence to show that a higher level of educational attainment implied a higher salary.

Another program we ran was comparing race or ethnicity to earned salaries. The results for this test surprised me and were not what I would have expected. We found that the highest paid people in the United States are Asian-Americans, and then second were Caucasians, then African-Americans, then Mexican-Americans. I had never thought about it in depth prior to our test, and so the results were kind of shocking. It just goes to show that there are so many things that can be shown using statistics and many fields of research that need statistics in order to understand what it is they are studying.

In addition to using STATA, Claudia would assign me reading every week that would be related to a topic in Statistics. Usually I would keep her informed as to what we were currently learning in my Applied Statistics class and she would assign me something related to it so that not only would it help me understand the material better, but it would give me a chance to ask her questions about the topic and how it could be applied. One really funny article used Time Series to try to answer the classic question "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" It was extremely creative and as far as actually running the tests and analyzing the data, it gave a valid conclusion to the question. What I really got out of it was the fact that there are people that know so much about statistics that they can use it to answer practically anything, whether it is of value or not!

What I am really trying to say here is that with all of the reading I have done and different topics that we have covered throughout the semester, I came to realize that graduate school is nothing like undergraduate school. You can really focus in on something that you find interesting and want to apply to what you do in the future, rather than just getting enough information to understand a broad field of study. I feel like doing graduate school will help me find out what it is I really want to do with my life and what I am passionate about. In attending some of Claudia's classes, I saw that even the structure of learning is completely different. It is much more open to discussion and actually doing workshop type activities during lectures rather than just taking notes and listening. This is directly related to what I was saying earlier, that for most graduate students, they are in a field of study that they are passionate about and really interested in. I am excited about the idea of graduate school and being in graduate classes where the learning process is more hands-on and exciting.

Whether I end up going immediately to graduate school, taking a few years off before going, or just end up doing something completely different with my life; this experience has been of great value to me. It is not very often that you get a glimpse of what it would be like if you made an important decision in your life, and that is exactly what this internship has done for me. It has shown me just how different graduate school is than I thought it would be which has made me even more interested in pursuing my education.