Saturday, July 2, 2016

What I do for fun

Whenever I'm asked what my hobbies are I always pull a blank. But when I start to think a little harder about it I notice that most of what I like to do involves being outside. My summers always involve multiple trips per week to the beach. I also like to hike regularly and explore new places. These activities usually involve several of my friends. We're a pretty tight knit group and we do a lot of stuff together, they're basically my brothers. We can't really stand being inside for long, and sometimes we jump in the car and start driving still without knowing exactly where we're going. We usually end up either at the beach, the mountains, or exploring downtown. We rarely go to the same beach or hiking trail twice in a row though. I feel like this ties in a lot with geography because I love seeing new landscapes. That is one of the major reasons I came to Menomonie. As a child I would always tell my mom "vamos al trafico!" Spanish for "Let's go to the traffic!". That doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but it was my way of telling her I wanted to get out of the house and go somewhere. It didn't really matter where, I just wanted her to take me somewhere so I can stare out the car window the whole time and observe the landscape (I guess I was a weird kid). I enjoy asking why people are where they are, why they go the places they go, and how they interact with the environment around them, and that's basically what geography is all about.

Research is a Journey

Ever since I was a kid, I've always loved being outdoors. Whether that's building snow forts or canoeing in the summer, nature has a way of drawing me out like nothing else can. I think that's because of all the discovery there is to experience when romping through the woods, hiking over the mountains, or swimming through the waters. Sometimes I forget how caught up I can get in my own thoughts during a run-of-the-mill day, but when I'm experiencing nature, I learn to look outside of myself, and be conscious of the beautiful, strange, and fantastic systems I'm a part of. Nature makes me want to dig deeper, and that inspires me to be a better researcher.

Sometimes research feels like being outside. There is so much rich information at your finger tips that it's easy to be overwhelmed, or just miss it all entirely. However, if you put the work in and care enough about what you're looking for, you'll probably find it.   

"Nothing will work unless you do." - Maya Angelou"

It's pretty interesting to think about how I stumbled upon my interest in environmental economics research. If you asked me 2 years ago what I wanted to study I would have told you civil engineering. Bridges are cool and I like math so this sounds like a good fit, I thought to myself. A year later I would have told you financial economics- the culmination of wall street and putting an Ivy league education to good use, I reasoned. After all, I want to see some returns on this absurdly high tuition price, so big banks seemed like the place to go. Well unless Bernie rips them up that is, in which case I guess I would have had to turn to small banks? Medium-sized banks? As you can see I did not follow the financial economics route. Fortunately, I was able to pursue economics while keeping my soul in tact, as I found a path less traveled. A path a little bit more scenic.

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens

Room 212 takes on the Speedy Eity on the 4th
of July!
Instead of explaining to people what I’m interested in, I wish I could just invite everyone to my house and have them look at everything in my room.  The ceiling of is covered in maps, and the walls are papered with postcards sent to me or collected from museum visits or tourist shops, prints and collages I made in high school, cut outs from calendars and magazines, bibs from some of my favorite running and skiing races, and tapestries that my mom got as a gift from people who attended the artist residency where she works (located just down the street from my house and basically where I grew up). The book shelf my dad built me wraps around my bed, filled with childhood favorites and to-read stacks.  

This is the environment I created for myself growing up, surrounding myself with the places I’d been and the places I hope to go, with books to supplement adventures in the meantime.  I have always loved reading, writing, history, and geography.  I love to be outside, something that has fueled my enjoyment for running, hiking, and skiing.  While I have a difficult time trying to pinpoint a concrete passion for something at this point in my life, somewhere along the way I decided that I’m interested in people and places.  Hence my choice to study Sociology and Environmental Studies.  With these two fields, basically everything interesting is covered: society, culture, politics, feminism, history, food systems, supply chains, art, imagination, and revolution: in short - adventure.  

Reflections from Lake Menomin

I like to push my own boundaries, I always have.  In the past four years I have skydived, added a second major, competed at a national speech competition, received a rock climber’s belay certification, and applied to an internship I thought to be well out of my grasp, The LAKES REU.  While the latter of these proved most nerve-wracking, it only slightly exceeds the challenges I face when writing about myself.  Personal statements make me uncomfortable.

This week’s blog post topic challenges me to synthesize my favorite activities, reflecting how they overlap my research interests.  This highly reflective, personal topic echoes my boundary-pushing tendencies and begs personal development.

A Summer Outside

The Econ canoe – I swear I paddled and didn’t just sit in the middle the whole time
When it comes to my free time, I love doing just about anything outside – from hiking to swimming to playing basketball. My time with the LAKES program has been perfect for this so far. When we aren’t working on our research projects, most of our free time has been spent outside. A basketball hoop next to our dorms always keeps me busy in the evenings, and trips around the region fill the rest of my time. Just last weekend we went canoeing down Red Cedar River and biked to a local strawberry patch to pick our own berries for the week (pictures included).
The strawberries were so good we ate a whole
bucket in less than a week

My interest in the outdoors and traveling to new places not only influenced my decision to study Geography as my second major, but it also strongly influences my research interests. As someone who enjoys spending a lot of time outside, it only makes sense that I would be interested in research involving the environment and sustainability. The LAKES research is right up my ally – I get to learn about ways to limit environmental pollution while also exploring how much of a positive economic impact a cleaned-up lake would have on the local community. Studying a lake that I pass each day makes the research project even more interesting as I get to know the local area and community more and more every day.

What do War and Peace, Brexit, and nuclear fission have in common?

I have a lot of interests— Russian Literature, nuclear physics, politics—but economics is not just a thing that I study so I will have a job someday, it’s a passion in it’s own right. I'm fascinated by the application of economics, especially in weird aspects of life. This is manifested through my somewhat obsessive following of the British EU Referendum (Seriously if anyone wants to discuss Brexit, please talk to me), my tune-ins to Planet Money and Freakonomics podcasts, and my growing collection of economic nonfiction.

My interests inform my research because I am passionate about my research, in the abstract and the particular. Economics research can be applied to every one of my interests. It can add important context to War and Peace, can explain why we don’t have any research reactors producing major radiomedical isotopes in the United States, and is so entwined in politics that I don’t even need to justify the link. 

When I say I’m an economics and math major, I often get a look of slight judgement. It’s a look that has an inherent condemnation for being a sellout, trading soul for financial gain, for being a mini-Faust of capitalism. But they shouldn’t look at economics that way because although everyone assumes that economics is about money and profit margins, the truth is it is at root actually about people. It’s about how people interact with each other, it’s about how you can optimally create a functioning society, it’s about how people are rational and how they are irrational, and it’s about incentives and the pursuit of happiness. I often see it as applying math and equations to look at the effect of human interactions like how do people choosing whom they marry affect income inequality? Why is there such a gender wage gap and how could we try to solve it? How can we model the process of dating? Should you go to school for one more year? How much does a society value a clean lake?

While I find all of economics fascinating, environmental economics is an area that I am especially interested in. It seems especially relevant and poignant in a way that other areas of economic research are not. I may be fascinated by how micro choices like who you fall in love with affect society but it is not going to yield important policy recommendations like environmental economics has the potential to.  It is exactly the significance and the civic engagement in this research project that make this project so fascinating, important, and enjoyable.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Integrating Math and Life

As a math major, I find most of my time consumed by stressing out over problem sets and computer programming. However, when I do get a chance to relax I love to read, paint, and golf. None of these hobbies on the surface seem to have anything to remotely do with math but they all deal in some way with problem solving or detail work. A common complaint in math classes is that people never feel like they’re going to use some abstract formula in their daily lives. And while I might not use the Pythagorean Theorem every day, the problem solving skills and detail oriented mindset I gain help me in everyday activities and my hobbies; just as those skills I learn from hobbies also help me with learning math.  

                I love to read popular math books that talk about beautiful abstract math theories that I don’t get to cover in my numerical computing classes. This gives me a more holistic view of math and also helps me to think of numerical computing in a fuller view and not just let the computer do all the thinking for me. I also love to read fictional short stories which allows me look at situations from different angles and tap into my creative side. When I paint I get to look at the full picture of what I want and then try to break it into smaller, manageable chunks so I don’t get overwhelmed in the long process. In addition, I also have to be very patient when dealing with smaller details. When I golf I’m always looking for the best place to position my golf shots and details like wind speed, grass type, and temperature that could possibly change the outcome of the shot. By combining my love for reading, painting, golfing, and math I’m able to pay attention to detail and gain critical thinking skills which helps inspire me to always be creative and learn as much as possible.  

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Transforming Fiction and Reality

The great majority of my free time is spent reading fiction. I love immersing myself into a fantasy world where life's stressors are immaterial, where reality is replaced by fantasy. Specifically, I love to read fanfiction, particularly stories about Harry Potter. Fanfiction involves fans of a work transforming it and making it their own. An author may write about a character hardly mentioned or may wondering how the story would change if A happened instead of B. Fanfiction explores the world beyond the scope of the work's original universe and allows readers to look at the work from different perspectives. Is Snape a hero or a villain? What if Neville Longbottom was the Boy-Who-Lived? Why did Regulus Black defect from the Death Eaters? Fanfiction encourages its' readers to think critically and imagine possibilities.

To me, research and fanfiction share a lot of similar properties. Research is generally built off of and inspired by other research- you take a concept and add your own angle or twist to what already exists. Both are reviewed by peers and critiqued, though, understandably, the processes are just a tad different. They both involve critically examining the source material in order to understand the ideas presented, to investigate claims, and to reach conclusions of your own as informed by the information found within. Different papers or stories may cause you to reexamine your views or consider new angles. Most importantly, both involve creativity, imagination, and the willingness to consider possibilities outside the currrent realm of thought.

If this sounds interesting to you, fanfiction is pretty freely available all around the Internet, concerning just about everything you could be a fan of, from sports, to books, to shows and movies. There's also been some interesting research on fanfiction and fan culture in general done by Henry Jenkins. Check it out!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"Peace Cannot Be Kept By Force; It Can Only Be Achieved By Understanding"- Einstein

Like a lot of people, I find it difficult to talk about myself. When someone asks me questions on any of my favorite memories, items, or hobbies, I completely forget everything I have ever enjoyed. However, when I have time to think on it, it is easy to see patterns that come out. I enjoy reading, but only things I want to read (assigned readings are not my friend), I enjoy talking with my friends and family on issues I find are important, I love watching nature documentaries, and I enjoy cooking.

Now, these things may not seem to go together, but they all have one thing in common: the ability/act of understanding. With reading, I am always in the character's minds, trying to see the world from their perspective, with talking with my friends, I am gaining insight to alternative views, with nature documentaries, I am learning about whatever specific animal or ecosystem, and with cooking, I am just learning how to make a dish without burning my house down. To me, it is clear that I seek out knowledge and want to understand how things or people function in certain settings.

This correlates with my research, because the field of anthropology deals with a lot of practice in the method of understanding. It doesn't even have to be a culture that you are trying to understand, although that is a main part, it can also be understanding the system in place, the structure to words, or even a historical understanding in order to apply it to modern times. The methods used are trying to understand all the small details in order to see the big picture in different ways each time you look. By researching Dunn and Barron county and their citizens perceptions and connections to the lake, I can gain insight to better understand how the polluted lakes impact the local community. By using my love for wanting to understand things, I can preform my research with passion, and use that to try and gain as much insight as possible.