iUTAH Team - Undergraduate iFellows
University of Utah
Faculty: Sara Yeo, UU
Graduate: Meaghan McKasy, UU
Research Focus Area 2
Adam Whalen is a senior at the University of Utah, where he is double majoring in Strategic Communication and Political Science with an emphasis in Public Policy. He is primarily interested in survey research, secondary analyses, and quantitatively studying attitudes and opinions on a societal level. Apart from attending graduate school during Fall of 2017, Adam ultimately hopes to apply his research skills and academic knowledge in the political / governmental sphere to enact change on a macro level.
Week 1: May 16-20, 2016
My first week as an iFellow only left me wanting more. After a fantastic Orientation, where I got to meet my cohort and learn more about the iUTAH project more broadly, I was able to sit down with my mentors Meaghan and Sara to discuss what I will be researching this summer! As a group, we will collect comparable data to the household and iPad surveys conducted by previous iUTAH and iFellow groups. We will then compare them against similar surveys conducted across the country. This will involve utilizing SPSS, a statistical analysis software, as well as topic conceptualization to draw conclusions about where public opinions on Utah’s water situation fits into the broader picture.
Overall I am very happy to be an iFellow, and I simply cannot wait to see what the following weeks have in store for me, my cohort, and all of our research projects!
Week 2: May 23-27, 2016
Whereas last Friday my overall place in the iUTAH project was murky, this week it became much clearer.
I kicked off the week by having another amazing cohort session, this time up at Utah State University. While I could have done without the long drive, the speakers and information presented made it more than worth it. I paid acute attention to Jeff Horsburgh (USU) presentation on proper data management as it relates directly to my research. Scott Bates (USU) opened my eyes to the intricacies and nuances of giving a poster presentation. After a comical “improvisation for scientists” session aimed at enhancing our professional interpersonal communication skills, I said farewell to my iFellow’s until June 13th when we will meet up again, this time down south at Brigham Young University.
As for the rest of my week, it saw me officially kicking off the meat of my research. I had an incredibly productive meeting with my mentors, Meaghan and Sara, and finally got set-up in an office space that I can (somewhat) call my own, it is shared with two other people after all. Apart from further familiarizing myself with the iUTAH survey data, something I began last week, I gathered countless pieces of secondary evidence on a number of water issues. These secondary data sets will serve as comparisons to the aforementioned iUTAH surveys that were conducted last year. While I may not have any exciting conclusions to draw just yet about where Utah compares to the nation and possibly even other states, I will say that I’m well on my way to finding them!
With a great deal of hard work, and copious amounts of coffee, I’m more confident than ever that my research is on the right track.
Week 3: May 30-June 3, 2016
With no cohort session this week, I took a much-needed day off before launching full force into my secondary data collection. Most of my time was spent sifting through numerous databases collecting anything and everything that might deliver insight into state and national water attitudes. As I gathered and analyzed these sources, I found myself feeling as if I was studying something truly impactful for Utah’s water future, and possibly the nation as well. Furthermore I found myself making mental comparisons between the data sets, even without any initial coding. Next week I hope to take much of what I’ve found and begin analyzing it within SPSS.
Outside of my research, I had a very helpful meeting with my mentors where we revised our Curriculum Vitae’s (CV), what is essentially an academic resume. This was a fantastic way to reflect on where I’ve been in my academic career and gave me the opportunity to look back through my awards, honors, and distinctions. Working on my CV allowed me to think toward the future as well, and what place research might have in my career. For me, this CV demonstrates the diverse opportunities the iFellow program offers its researchers. Beyond the logistics of my work, these career-oriented workshop sessions I have with my mentors are both helpful and enjoyable.
Even though there is no Cohort session next Monday, I look forward to another week of exciting research with my mentors.
Week 4: June 6-10, 2016
After another week of research, I feel as if my project is finally beginning to shift gears. While my time thus far has been spent scouring academic databases, this week I broke out SPSS and began preliminary coding. Even though the secondary data collection is integral to a project such as this, it is nice to finally begin working on something else. This all started with a quick refresher on the software Wednesday with my mentors. It has been close to a year since I have coded and processed survey data, so practicing commands and proper scripting was jarring at first. My mentors were exceptionally patient through my struggles with the program. My next challenge will be taking the raw data I have collected and cleaning it up, thereby allowing for me to compare it to the iUTAH data sets.
This week also marked the first conceptualizations of my forthcoming research poster. I have begun toying with how I want to present my research aesthetically. At the last cohort session, Scott Bates gave us some fantastic tips on how to make an intriguing poster. I have been taking his ideas and fusing them with my own artistic inclinations. Considering my background in advertising, I’ve been using some of the aesthetic principles I have learned and applying them to this poster. I must say I am excited to share my thoughts with the other iFellows. Furthermore, I crafted an initial draft of my introduction and methods portion for our cohort session on Monday. While it certainly was a unique beast to tackle, I used parts of my prospectus which was, in essence, a poster-esque summation of my research.
In preparation for the aforementioned cohort session, I plan on reading the weekly updates of other iFellows. It has been several weeks since I have seen them in person, so it should be fun to see how their research has been going.
Week 5: June 13-17, 2016
My week began with a cohort session down at BYU. This was my first time seeing the other iFellows in three weeks, which made for nice conversation on how our respective research was going. We began the day by reading each other’s introduction and methods portion of our posters, and the giving quick critiques in a “speed dating format”. Not only was this helpful for my own research, but it helped me see how other individuals were crafting their own posters. After that we made our way up the Provo canyon for some hands-on water sampling. I’m mostly locked up in an office for my research, so it was nice to get outside while still working on iUTAH projects. While the technical aspects of measuring E-Coli presence in the river were over my head, it was fun to see what other people are doing with their projects.
The remainder of the week was reserved for primarily more coding. I mainly clean the data, which involves isolating and identifying the variables that are relevant to my research. I hope to begin drawing up correlations and comparisons as soon as next week. Outside of the coding, I also worked on my poster presentation. Taking critiques from the other iFellows, I adjusted my introduction and methods section accordingly. Furthermore, I began to conceptualize what figures I will inevitably put on my poster. While I’ll have to wait and see what kind of data I end up with, there should be space for four to five figures on my poster.
Once again, there will be no cohort session next week so I will predominantly spend the time on my research. I hope to finish cleaning up my data and ultimately begin drawing up comparisons between data sets. It’s very exciting to see my research coming to fruition.
Week 6: June 20-24, 2016
Compared to my other weeks as an iFellow, this one was certainly less chaotic. Meaghan, my graduate mentor, was out on a much needed vacation in Puerto Rico. My research didn’t have any major breakthroughs either, as I continued with more coding. I began the week by cleaning up the remaining data sets I had collected earlier in the summer. This made the data suitable for comparison, and as such I began work on my cross tabulations. My initial results show some interesting differences between Utah’s attitudes toward water and the country as a whole. While I am not able to discuss any of those at length in these weekly updates, I can say that I am excited to share my findings more officially.
This week I also enjoyed a surprise or two in my Twitter feed. My fellow iFellows Mitch, Rebecca, Luis, and various others were tweeted out by iUTAH. Even though I regularly read up on everyone else’s research, it was still exciting to them pop up so unexpectedly. Of course I retweeted each post, but more importantly it prompted me to read up on everyone else’s weekly updates. One of the things I appreciate most about the iFellow experience is the diversity of exposure and experience. If it was not for this program, I would never be reading about the research experiences entirely out of my field of study. It is exciting, enlightening, and adds an extra level to my research that I do not feel I could get anywhere else.
Here in the next week or two I will have a fun video surprise for you detailing just what I mean when I say I “clean” my data. In the meantime, this picture of my coding screen will have to do!
Week 7: June 27-July 1, 2016My week began with a cohort session at my home institution, the University of Utah. It took place at the Natural History Museum, where we were given a tour of not only the museum, but a special installation on Utah’s water and GAMUT (Gradients Along Mountain to Urban Transition) sites made possible by iUTAH. It was enjoyable to see all the museum had to offer particularly in the company of my other iFellows. We then made our way to several GAMUT sites in and around campus. A highlight of the session was our trip up into the Red Butte watershed. Dave Eiriksson, one of the GAMUT technicians, was kind enough to show us his stations and instrumentation used for his measurements. While the temperature left something to be desired, it was a memorable experience and one of my favorite cohort sessions of the experience thus far.
This week also found me making good progress in my research. I had a very productive meeting with my mentors in which we isolated drinking water as our primary variable of interest. Furthermore, we made plans for me to learn the basics of regression analyses which should aid in the overall quality of my study. My initial findings lead me to believe I am nearing the end of my iFellows research, but there is still much to come. Now that I have focused my research further, I will edit my abstract to reflect on its now more precise nature.
Next week I will be submitting a video on the basics of coding within IBM SPSS Statistics. It will be built as a “how-to” of sorts, with the ultimate goal being an introductory approach to the inner-workings of my research.
Week 8: July 4-8, 2016
This week I’m delighted to share with everyone a short video describing outlining my research process. Each week I have discussed the program I use, IBM SPSS Statistics, and the coding skills it requires. My video is an attempt to visually demonstrate the process. Functioning as a tutorial of sorts, I walk the viewer through a few simple commands and logistics of the program. All of this is done by way of a screen-capturing program which allows me to narrate each and every thing I’m doing on my computer screen.
Week 9: July 11-15, 2016
In what I would consider the culmination of the iFellows program, I presented my research in front of peers, mentors, and stakeholders this week at the iUTAH annual symposium. It was amazing to finally show off in a tangible format what I’ve been doing this summer. Furthermore, it was quite exciting to see how my other iFellow’s posters turned out. Filled to the brim with colorful pictures and insightful graphs, it was a splendid display of the many disciplines and research focus area’s coming together at once.
For the weeks to come, I plan on shifting my attention to the upcoming paper and oral presentation due in roughly two weeks. These two works should serve to further nuance my research, as well as help me grasp in several mediums how to best display the things I have learned in my time as an iFellow. I will say that the meeting itself was bittersweet. While I will continue to follow the iUTAH project and my peers for the future, I know the end of this fantastic summer is near. I may not remember each and every cohort session, but I fail to see how I can forget the fantastic people I have interacted with and the experiences I have been a part of.
Week 10: July 18-22, 2016
In my second to last week as an iFellow, I was hard at work on my upcoming oral presentation at the iFellows Symposium. Considering my past work in marketing and public relations, I am no stranger to a well-crafted PowerPoint. Of course, scientific research is entirely different than the latest attraction at your local mall, and as such, I have relied heavily on my mentors for guidance. I look to them not only for help in how to design my slides, but also in the best practices for delivering such information to an educationally diverse crowd. It has presented an intriguing challenge for me, but I believe that it will ultimately be worthwhile in my future academic endeavors.
This week also saw me beginning the second draft of my paper. Due at the end of the program, all iFellows are required to deliver a five page report of their research. This is not unlike a work you would see in an academic journal. Once again, my inexperience in the scientific way of crafting such deliverables is showing through. I am more accustomed to media releases and papers on political theory than I am on methods sections and recommendations for further research. As per the norm, I will seek the influence and help of my mentors to craft this paper into something worthy of my research.
Next week will be bittersweet for sure. Not only is it my last week as an iFellow, but it will be the conclusion of my individual contribution to the greater iUTAH project. While I may not know what the future has in store for me in regards to iUTAH, next week will be a final testament to the thing I have learned as a part of it.
Week 11: July 25-29, 2016
With the end of the program nigh, I thought I would spend my last weekly update mulling over my final thoughts on the iFellows program. The experience for me was nothing short of insightful, interesting, and relentlessly fun.
I had limited experience in the scientific realm before I began my research. My academic time was spent reading political theorists and practicing my elevator pitches for client meetings. I had always possessed a secondary interest in science. During my high school days in debate, I most enjoyed the topics that had to do with climate change and resource conservation. At the collegiate level, I began a survey research project that led to my application to become an iFellow. My mentor had pointed it out to me as a great opportunity to enhance my backend survey analytics skills, and at the very least, I decided it could aid me in my academic future. Little did I know the experience would revolutionize my ten-year plan.
As an iFellow, I gained a real appreciation for statistical analysis. I cannot say if the academic path is in my future, but at the very least I have acquired an interest in data analytics as a future career path. Furthermore, I know I want to do something that impacts society in a broad level. During the cohort sessions I saw firsthand the impact our work has, and that sense of fulfillment is something I want to hold onto. More than anything, I think the iFellows experience opened my eyes to the bright future we have in the environmental sciences. The mentors, undergraduates, and public figures we read about and heard from made the program worthwhile. I will never forget the other iFellows I shared the Summer with, and beyond the knowledge I attained, the friendships I developed are by far the best gift I could ask for.
I want to thank everyone involved in iUTAH for this wonderful experience. I want to extend my gratitude and good wishes the other iFellows in all their future endeavors. Lastly, I want to give my graces to my fantastic mentors Meaghan McKasy and Sara Yeo for their support, knowledge, and unrelenting ability to push me to my limits.
All content provided on this iUTAH Team - Undergraduate iFellows weekly recap is unedited, updated by each participant to provide a review of their progress, and is for informational purposes only.