When Steven Zhu’s summer 2020 plans were cancelled as a result of the pandemic shut-down, he decided to learn Python by working on a stock analysis coding project, never thinking that this activity he undertook mainly for fun would help him land his first research experience with a professor. He initially reached out to Doug McKee because he’d enjoyed his teaching approach for ECON 3030 Intermediate Microeconomics and wanted to get involved with his active learning research. Here, Steven’s coding experience gave him an edge as Prof. McKee wanted to scale up instructor participation in the standard assessments he’d developed for economics courses to measure the effects of active learning pedagogy, thus necessitating the automation of email reminders about assessment delivery and reporting obligations to instructors on various campuses involved in the project. Steven was able to use Python to build this automation process.
His experience with Prof. McKee then proved useful when he approached Eswar Prasad about research opportunities. He is now working as a Hatfield Undergraduate Research Assistant for Prof. Prasad on a number of projects, including a principal component analysis of top cryptocurrencies and stocks to test for correlations of growth and decrease in prices. In addition to such technical projects, Steven is also able to engage in activities like fact finding, such as when Prof. Prasad urgently needed to find background information on U.S. aid sent to Afghanistan in preparation for an interview for NPR’s Planet Money podcast.
Steven’s experiences so far have been fun for him and given him a chance to explore a variety of topics in ways the classroom doesn’t always provide. They’ve also changed his mind about the nature of research, the approach to which he’d formerly thought of as quite regimented: “I didn’t really know what research in economics meant until working on these projects. I guess what surprised me most is that there is no fixed approach to research, and that professors have very different ways of going about it, different styles.”
If you’d like to chat with Steven about his research experiences, you might find him in the Economics Tutoring Center in 475 Uris Hall where he provides tutoring for Economics courses.