Through my research experience, I have developed several transferable, or “soft” skills, which will be very useful in both my academic and professional career. The skill which first comes to mind is adaptability. As I am sure many can relate to, for me, this past year has been full of surprises, many of which did not necessarily seem positive at the time. My research award was originally intended to fund my summer internship at the Department of the Treasury in Washington D.C. I was thrilled about this opportunity, and felt rather defeated when my internship was cancelled, due to COVID-19. However, instead of being unproductive this summer, I adapted. I adjusted my research plan, and instead conducted an independent research project surrounding a topic I am very passionate about—education. This summer, I learned when one door closes, another opens, and my adjusted plan to study educational inequality surrounding the COVID-19 crisis has been fascinating and highly rewarding. Additionally, within my research, I have also understood the importance of being adaptable. The COVID-19 crisis and educational response has been ever-changing. Originally, when I designed my research project, students were essentially all learning remotely, and I planned to study the differences in access to resources for remote-learning—like WiFi, computers, parental support, and a quiet workspace. But later in the summer, as schools started developing reopening plans for the fall, I realized the focus of my research had to adjust. There were some schools planning for fully remote learning until December, and others, planning for hybrid learning and mass-testing availability beginning in September. In turn, I adjusted my research plan to investigate the differences in reopening plans across schools of various socioeconomic backgrounds. Being adaptable in professional settings is a highly valuable skill, which I believe my experience this summer helped me sharpen and understand.
In regard to technical, or “hard” skills, my research experience has helped developed my ability to navigate the internet to collect data, and think critically to interpret my findings. When I first brainstormed my project, I assumed my data collection would consist of talking to students, teachers, and administrators directly to understand students’ resources during the COVID-19 crisis. However, after speaking to my mentor, I learned the difficulty of being approved to speak directly to schools in such a narrow time-frame, and I realized my data collection would primarily consist of resources I could find online. Although I was worried about finding ample material initially, I quickly realized how much was available. Just using the Internet, one has access to pages and pages of documents articulating the reopening plans of every school in the Philadelphia area. This project helped me realize how much I am able to do with the resources available at my fingertips, and taught me how to navigate and interpret my findings online in the scope of my research project. Collecting, sorting, and interpreting data is a vital skill as I transition into my professional career.