Tasked with connecting with previous Brackenridge Fellows, I reached out to Adrienne Newcomer Judson, who is currently an Economics PhD at Georgetown University. She earned a Math-Econ degree at Pitt in undergrad, which is why I was originally interested in her profile. I’ve been considering an Economics PhD as a potential path for myself, as a lot of important research is being done (and is yet to be done) in that area to create social change for a more equitable society. I’m looking forward to learning about where her research areas are and where she plans on going after her PhD.
Finding a Mentor
I met my research mentor, Evan Gilbertson (a graduate student of Frits Pil), through my roommate. He was teaching one of her business courses, and was looking for someone who might be interested in some coding work for him. When I heard he had an undergraduate degree in mathematics, I asked my roommate to put me in touch! He was actually the one who told me about the Brackenridge Fellowship, and helped me narrow the concept of my proposal, so in my case I had a series of fortunate events lead to my participation in this program.
As far as advice goes, by far the most common way (in my experience) people have met research mentors/advisors is by talking to professors in classes they’ve enjoyed. Sometimes professors are currently looking for students to do some research assistant work, and sometimes they know someone else who is. Either way, if you have demonstrated to a professor that you are a hard working student by doing well in their class and putting in the effort (going to office hours etc.) they are much more willing to give you a shot or vouch for you than if you just send out some emails to professors in your department.
My other piece of advice is to look up what specific kinds of research a professor is doing, and prioritize the research that sounds interesting to you. When you ask them if they are looking for research assistant or if they’d be willing to work with you, you can demonstrate that you have an interest in their particular area of expertise.
change is coming
Right now, it can feel like professional goals are a moving target. That being said, I am always interested in meeting people doing research or work (specifically within STEM fields) that aims to spark societal change for social justice. Just this week, a group of mathematicians signed an open letter calling for mathematicians everywhere to stop collaborating with police. Specifically, their concern lies with predictive policing, which is a tool that supposedly predicts where crime will occur. However, it has been shown to disproportionately target people of color, thus making it a harmful technology.
I believe this is an important step for mathematics, and I’m grateful for the mathematicians who put the letter together. These are the kinds of researchers I want to work with as I progress further in my career. I’m not sure who can help me make these kinds of connections, but I think paying attention and intentionally seeking out important research being conducted is the first step.