Summer 2021 Community Research Fellowship: Reflecting on My Experience

A page from the Data Jam Resource for High School Students that I wrote this summer! This page details the topic of regression, but also displays some of the techniques I used in writing such as shorter paragraphs and annotated images for better understanding.

Going into the project, I had only been exposed to natural sciences and data-driven research projects, more specifically those with numerical data that are analyzed using statistical software and significance tests. This preconception drastically changed throughout the project, as I learned about the use of qualitative methods such as literature reviews and examination of historical artifacts as forms of research. Even my project underwent a different form of research than the number-centered approach I was used to. My project involved a lot of writing, which was subject to feedback from other Community Research Fellows and my mentors who had a lot of experience working with high school students. The resource involved a design procedure so to speak, with the methodology including the actual writing of the resource and the results being the feedback from my mentors, other Pitt students, and high school students. Overall, it was the procedure of my project and the observation of how others conducted their projects that led to my now-enhanced understanding of research.

The most valuable thing that I gained from undertaking this research project was an acknowledgement and appreciation for all forms of research, including a better understanding of the numbers-based data research I was already familiar with. Teaching a subject increases your own understanding of that subject, so I gained a more thorough understanding of the procedure to properly use Big Data to make data-informed decisions (which are taking over the working world today) through writing how to follow to correct procedure. Additionally, my own Data Jam project that I conducted over the first half of the fellowship allowed me to observe the trouble spots within the procedure and put myself in the shoes of the students rather than just blindly writing about it. I also got to observe and appreciate the other forms of research out there, not just within my project but within other project, and how it can make a difference in transforming communities. Literature reviews, design processes, and interviews are all great examples of methods used to conduct qualitative research and synthesize new solutions to a complex research question.

Within both parts of the project, I encountered time-consuming challenges that required some thinking and help from my mentors to get through. In the first part of my project, my greatest challenge was in preparing and finalizing data. I was not able to find sufficient data for a lot of the variables I wanted to use in my statistical analysis, so I had to use creative (yet plausible) methods to circumvent the spottiness of the data. With the help and approval of my mentors and colleagues, I was able to use some of my ideas and find better resources to fill in the data most accurately. In the second part of my project, the greatest challenge was simply getting the resource started. I had a lot to think about going in, from how to phrase the sentences and terms to where to place pictures. However, with help from my mentors and colleagues, I was able to get the ball rolling and the rest of the manual was written fairly smoothly.

I did not have any financial barriers in particular that this assistance helped me overcome, but I was certainly happy to receive some additional funds to put into my savings that I plan to use down the line.

For the next steps of my project, I hope to receive feedback from the high school students themselves, as we were not able to reach them during the summer when they were on vacation. Receiving this primary feedback will be invaluable to my manual, as I will truly get to understand what they most need and are looking for in this resource. Additionally, I hope to create a video along with Jackson Filosa, another CRF recipient, that highlights both of our summer projects and hopefully garners more attention to both. As the Data Jam begins to shift to a classroom-based approach, I hope to keep updating my project to best inspire students to create the best project that they can and perhaps follow a career in Data Science.

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