I can summarize what I expected to see when I entered Wisconsin for the first time in one short word: cheese. Despite having family that has lived in Wisconsin for my whole life, cheese was all that I knew about this midwestern state. I expected cheese sales on the side of the road, free cheese samples are the grocery store, cheese head hats like the ones I see on TV—cheese and cheese everywhere.
I did see some cheese (like the cheese in our brats on the arrival-day BBQ or the cheese curds featured on almost every restaurant menu), but nothing like what I expected. Instead, on my way to Menomonie from the MSP airport, I saw beautiful, vast farmland, tons of bison and cows, countless lakes and rivers.
But that’s Wisconsin in general. For Menomonie specifically, all I knew was that the town is home to a terribly polluted lake. I had seen pictures and news clippings showing its oddly bright green color, and expected this is what I would find upon arrival. To my surprise, I found a beautiful blue lake with little to no noticeable pollution and, thankfully, no awful smell. At first I was honestly a little bit let down by the lake—I thought the pollution would shock me and inspire a whole new level of dedication to my work. I am assured, however, that the pollution I expected will come later in the summer (bring it on).
I expected Menomonie to be a tiny town with basically no buildings except those belonging to UW-Stout, plus maybe a few bars to service the thirsty students (I guess it’s clear that I did almost no research about the town ahead of time). I was pleasantly surprised to be met instead by a historic, quaint downtown area with plenty of shops, antique stores, restaurants (visitors should try the Waterfront, it’s great), and theatres. I love historic towns—something about the architecture and atmosphere just really appeals to me—so discovering that Menomonie is more than just a school plus some bars was great.
The website for the REU was a little bit vague about what exactly I’d be doing once I got here. I knew I’d be doing economics, with some cost-benefit analysis and Bayesian statistics and, of course, some modeling, but I didn’t really know what the atmosphere would be like. I anticipated a faced paced learning environment, where advisors held us to high standards and expected us to know things and were disappointed if we didn’t. I predicted a rigid, set project design on which us students would be expected simply to assist.
I was a mix of right and wrong. I was right that the work is fast-paced, and right again that we are held to high standards. But the advisors don’t expect us to know everything, and are not disappointed at all if we say “I don’t know.” Instead, they are excited to teach us, and, in return, are excited when we have something to teach them. Instead of a set project, my advisor Chris has adjusted my project to fit my goals for the summer (I wanted to learn more about modeling), and has made it clear that us students are taking the lead. Chris has gone out of his way to get me books that I need and do what he can to make my experience as good as it can possibly be (and thanks for finding my watch)
I can’t wait to really get into my research. Watch out world, we are about to change you!