For many, the mention of “research” at a big University conjures up images of complex chemistry experiments or dense mathematical proofs, that, while still useful, are somewhat separated from everyday life and aren’t immediately applicable to the communities they are based in. This was certainly the perspective I held before coming to Pitt, and stereotypes of snooty college professors and elitist academic circles led me to believe that participating in research meant isolating myself from most of society to publish a paper that few would read, let alone understand. But after two years of learning in a major hub of academic research- including time spent studying with professors at the forefront of their fields and beginning a project of my own- my entire understanding of research has changed. Through the Community Research Fellowship this summer, I have learned about the process of conducting research in Pitt’s closest communities, and the importance of creating mutually beneficial partnerships built with longevity in mind. Another thing I have learned is that communication is everything, and your findings are only as influential as your ability to share them with others. As a result of this, I have done a good deal of strategizing with my faculty mentor and community partner in order to effectively communicate the findings of my own research, with the goal of further debunking current understandings of research and ensuring that all can share in the results. By doing this we can continue to shift the public perspective of research from idle tinkering in ivory towers to urgent, ground-level problem solving intended to make the world a better place.
To briefly summarize, my project this summer consists of designing and producing a series of videos about data analysis for high school students participating in the Pittsburgh Data Jam (for more details about the structure and content of the series, feel free to check out my first blog post!). While creating videos, it is my goal to receive feedback from past participants in the Data Jam in order to continuously revise and improve each entry in the series. By the end of the summer, I will have created a lasting resource for Data Jam teams and attained valuable information about the video creation process for future Data Jam mentors and educators. In order to communicate the results of this research, I am working with Pittsburgh DataWorks to feature the finished video series on their website. Additionally, I have talked to Dr. Cameron, my faculty mentor, about serving as a guest speaker in her Data Jam course (which gives a general overview of big data and trains new mentors every fall). In addition to future Data Jam teams, the videos will be publically available to any school or student attempting to understand data analysis, how to conduct a project of their own, and why it is important to do so.
For my post-undergraduate career, this Community Research Fellowship already has been an invaluable learning experience. In addition to furthering my understanding of how to conduct a research project, gaining experience in video production has taught me about communicating information in an informative and entertaining manner, especially towards audiences outside of my field. With my ultimate goal of working in the field of data analytics, I think this will prove critical to ensuring that non-statisticians and data scientists are able to understand the conclusions of my work. Finally, being part of such an amazing team at Pittsburgh DataWorks and within the Pitt Honors college has shown me the importance of mentorship and collaboration in order to achieve your goals. It’s been a true privilege to continue working alongside all these incredible individuals, and I look forward to continued growth and development this summer!