Research Experiences for Undergraduates

For undergraduate students at Wharton with an interest in research, there is an abundance of opportunities to pursue that passion. My experience began last summer, when as a sophomore I participated in the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR). This program, under the guidance of Dr. Martin Asher, allowed me to work for ten weeks over the summer on my own research project. Having had a longtime interest in both education and economics, I sought to explore a question that could combine the two. The program provides the time, flexibility, and support necessary to work on a project like this, as well as a community of peers who are also working on research and visits from professors and graduate students who present their research to SPUR participants.

The final output from my participation in the SPUR program was a paper that examines the effects of an education reform in Turkey in the 1990s. This topic is particularly important to me because of my Turkish heritage and I my interest in the effects of Turkish public policy. In 1997, Turkey made middle-school education compulsory for the first time, so I was interested in examining the effects of this reform on students later in life.  Ultimately, I found that for men there is a significant increase in wages as a result of those three additional years of schooling they received.

The research experience taught me about the struggles that can come with research at times, from having difficulties in obtaining data to the need for persistence to get around the roadblocks along the way. I also had the benefit of Penn resources – not only have I had an amazing advisor in Dr. Mark Duggan, I have also been helped tremendously by many of the classes I’ve taken at Penn and Wharton, as it turns out that topics as wide ranging as econometrics to Turkish language are crucial in a project like this.

As I have continued to work on the paper throughout the year, I’ve had other opportunities to further enhance my research experience. These have been primarily in the form of academic conferences where I was able to present my research. With the support of Wharton and the Trustees’ Council of Penn Women, I have presented my paper at the Association for Education Finance and Policy Conference (a professional conference) and the Carroll Round at Georgetown University (a conference for undergraduate research in international economics).  Both of these experiences allowed me to get helpful comments about the paper from the academic community, but also helped to build my confidence and expand my network. As I plan to pursue my PhD in Economics in the next few years, I am grateful that Wharton has given me the chance to have these amazing experiences while still an undergraduate.