Undergraduate Student Spotlights

Iris SooJin Park

Hometown: Seoul, South Korea

Year in School: Senior

Interests/Hobbies: Watching movies and playing violin

Employment/Involvements/Activities: Center for Community and Economic Development, Madison Region Economic Partnership, Korea Research Institute for Human Settlements, Korea University, Co-Editor in Chief of Equilibrium, Wisconsin Federal Reserve Challenge, Wisconsin Without Borders Marketplace

Where is your favorite place on campus to eat and your favorite food?

I really like to grab either the Cranberry Harvest or the Mona Lisa—two sandwiches offered by Carte at the Memorial Union. The establishment is nearby and offers fast, delicious food. I’ve probably eaten from Carte over a hundred times, but I never get tired of those paninis.

What does being a Badger mean to you?

Being a Badger means strapping on a textbook-laden backpack and walking through the freshly fallen snow on a January morning trying to catch the #80 bus from the Social Science building to Memorial Union as it’s too cold to walk.

What has been your favorite Econ course?

Though I have really loved all of my econ courses, if I had to pick my favorite, it would probably be Econometrics (Econ 410), which I took with Professor Freyberger during my sophomore year. The content was challenging and, during my review of lectures, raised a tremendous number of questions in my mind. However, by meeting with Professor Freyberger and his TA during their office hours, I was able to acquire an in-depth understanding of the course material and fully enjoy each class. The content of this course has functioned, since then, as a stepping stone for all of my undergraduate research in Economics.

What strategies have helped you be successful since the change to remote learning?

Before the remote learning started, I could likely be found in either the Econ department or Memorial Library. Thus, this transition to remote learning was somewhat difficult for me, as I was much more effective when I studied at the library than when I studied at home. Thus, I set my bedroom up like a study room and also structured my daily routines much more than before. Though there were days I got a bit lazy, my effort to remain effective and productive during the pandemic has worked out quite well for me so far.

Where did you research, and did you have a good experience? Why or why not?

I started to conduct independent research in my junior year under Steven Deller, a professor in the Agricultural & Applied Economics Department. In this project, I studied the effects that structural change in the agricultural industry has had on community well-being. This research experience—and especially my collaboration with Professor Deller—was invaluable for me, as it enabled me to solidify my interest in applied microeconomics and related policies.

Last semester, as part of my Economics honors program, I conducted research where I studied the US labor market by industry, with a focus on the Beveridge curve and matching functions. By examining the results of each industry, I was able not only to see the effects of the Great Recession on various labor markets in subsequent years but also to present policy implications for the current labor markets of these industries.

Currently, I am conducting a comparative research project entitled “Inequality of Opportunity in the United States and Canada” under Professor Jeffrey Smith in the Economics Department. By quantifying the inequality of opportunity in these two countries, I hope to clarify the mechanisms causing inequalities and to aid the construction and evaluation of policy implications.

What advice do you have for students seeking an independent research project?

Perhaps the most important thing you can do to prepare for any research opportunity is to have a pre-existing foundation of skills and knowledge. For example, you should definitely consider taking courses in econometrics, data analysis, mathematics, or any other field that might be useful for your research. Additionally, it would be helpful if you can familiarize yourself with programming languages such as STATA, R, or Python by studying them on your own or taking classes provided by the SSCC.

While taking these preparatory steps, you should be vigilant in proactively searching for research opportunities. UW-Madison indeed has many such opportunities available for students, but since it is a very big university, you need to seize the opportunities yourself—they won’t be handed to you. From the first semester of my freshman year, I joined various Economics student organizations, took part in the honors program, and met with professors to ask them about their own research and to get some advice about how I could better prepare myself for the research field.

All of this advice seems to be quite obvious, but actually accomplishing these goals requires a tremendous amount of “active” input, which can be made all the more difficult by the heavy course-load borne by undergraduates. Nevertheless, the effort can pay off by generating far more opportunities than you would otherwise have.