Undergraduate Research: Department of Sociology
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William Dawson

William Dawson

Hometown: Dover, MA
Major: Economics & Sociology

How did you learn about this opportunity?

I talked to a professor who I had for class in a prior semester, Dr. Jenny Trinitapoli who put me in contact with The Population Research Institute.

Tell us a little bit about your experience.

I worked as Research Assistant for Dr. Trinitapoli to open up a new line of research into a dataset she had recently gained access to. I dug through the data to produce descriptive statistics, recoded variables to eliminate missing cases and coding mistakes, and ran analyses on the data to find out more about the two Ghanaian communities where data collection occurred. I worked mostly independently, with weekly or biweekly meetings with Dr. Trinitapoli. It was my responsibility to not only complete the tasks given to me but to creatively move the research forward by using my own intuition, critical thinking skills, and curiosity. Eventually we had a compelling enough story that we applied to a conference, which I attended in November (Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Boston, MA). There I presented our preliminary findings and received feedback on our approach and technique from other academics and graduate students. The project is now in the write-up phase, we are hoping to get a paper out of the work I've done since last May and we are optimistic this can be done.

"It was a great experience and my analytical, critical thinking, and data analysis skills improved a lot through the process."

How did this experience impact you academically?

I gained a lot of experience working with data, specifically the challenges faced by researchers and how to use Stata, a statistical manipulation software. Beyond that, I was able to focus on how a research project works, from the investigation phase to formulating hypotheses, testing them with statistical techniques, and drawing conclusions. I also gained experience in how to put together information succinctly when I prepared my weekly briefs for Dr. Trinitapoli. My writing skills improved and I also learned to communicate my results more clearly, an invaluable skill. Teamwork is my strong-point, but this project really helped me go through academic exercises mostly on my own, as I had very little direction most of the time. It was a great experience and my anaytical, critical thinking, and data analysis skills improved a lot through the process.

What are your career goals or plans? How did this experience impact them?

I have accepted an offer at Bates White, an Economic Consulting firm in Washington D.C. This project really helped me discover my love of working with data and finding out the 'story' it tells, which is really what Bates White does, just with economic data instead of demographic. Through working with Dr. Trinitapoli I found out that Economic Consulting was work that I would enjoy and I gained some skills (e.g. data manipulation) that are valued by employers, including Bates White. The experience made me a much stronger job candidate and I doubt I would have gained employment there had I not had the opportunity to do this work.

Would you recommend this experience to other liberal arts students?


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