Saturday, June 24, 2017

'Til the Cows Come Home: Experiential Learning At Its Finest

This past week has been quite the fruitful continuation of an introduction to the world of academic research. After a week of gathering sources and reading through a plethora of literature regarding water quality policies, I got my hands dirty and worked with real data for the first time in my academic career (unless you count FRED data downloads for problem sets...). This week's appetizer came in the form of water quality data from the National Water Quality Monitoring Council, which proved to a delectable selection of information that will serve as the backbone for the remaining components of this project's particular approach. Once that data had been spruced up and made into workable sets, the entree awaited: data from the 2002-2012 USDA Agricultural Census, specifically farm counts and total acreage. And why stop at one dish? Throughout the week I was also making steady progress on a second plate of brain food: a literature review encompassing last week's readings, and representing a key component of this summer's research.

Dessert? Well, I'd have to say that it came in the form of the overall satisfaction derived from another week's work well done. Even though we've yet to fully delve into the modeling process of working with water quality data, I learned a lot from Zach about the finer aspects of economic research as well as the nitty gritty parts by engaging in active outlining. A lot of time was expended daily but that's what I signed up for, and it's been every bit as immersive and rewarding an experience as it can be through two weeks. 

As for big picture material, this summer I'll be actively learning about past and current water quality policies and their respective effects on nonpoint source pollution abatement (with some point source coverage inevitably sprinkled in here and there) as well as economic measures like monetary valuation and cost-effectiveness; that process will provide a large portion of background and comparative knowledge. More specifically, my project will be zeroing in on the Minnesota Phosphorus Lawn Fertilizer Law and its effects on water quality in the state of Minnesota, which will then be compared to water quality in Wisconsin over the same time period to see if there's any significance to the Lawn Fertilizer Law's effectiveness. This significance could arise in results like the degree of impact on phosphorus pollution abatement or lack thereof and the accompanying cost-benefit balance, all of which will be obtained from models based on data that we'll be continuing to extract in the next few weeks as we strive for robustness. 

As rewarding as this summer's worth of research experience alone is going to be, hopefully the end product of our collaborative efforts will be just as rewarding for water quality and be more than a synthesis of 8 weeks worth of work and learning. Not that there'd be anything at all wrong with that, it's just that Zach's ambitious goals for us and our research have apparently rubbed off quite a lot. I'd very much like to produce an impactful study by the end of the summer, one that can sway policymakers or even just the higher-ups in the world of academia to use it as a launching pad for their own water quality improvement efforts. It is through this goal that I plan to continue learning more about other similar efforts that have occurred or that continue to occur across the nation, in addition to honing my fledgling data analytics skills into an at least halfway-decent instrument of change. Here's to another 6 weeks of good academic eats!

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