Learning About Happiness as a Penn Undergraduate
- by Olivia Nelson
At the end of my freshman year, I received great advice on how to get involved with research. One of the most common ways is to become a research assistant for a professor whose interests align with your own. I was advised to simply look up professors, read about their areas of research and contact them if anything aligned with my interests. I was also told, however, that it might not be an easy task to find a professor. Students frequently hear “no” as a response from professors for different reasons, such as they’re not currently working on anything or they already have research assistants. Luckily, I was able to reach out to Professor Cassie Mogilner in the Wharton Marketing Department and secure a position as her research assistant, helping with various types of tasks over the course of the semester. This introduction to research has been very exciting thus far.
Much of Professor Mogilner’s research focuses on happiness, time and money. As someone who enjoys working with qualitative data more than quantitative data, I have enjoyed learning more about these topics. Additionally, her work focuses on how people think and, ultimately, how that plays into their actions and emotions. This is an added bonus for me because psychology is another field that interests me.
Mostly, I have helped Professor Mogilner sort through various online survey responses in order to categorize them. For instance, I’ve helped sort through responses to questions about happiness and the respondents’ different sources of happiness. Reading and sorting through these responses actually provides a lot of insight. It is very interesting to see the endless reasons people give for feeling happy. You can learn a lot from how people respond to these questions, and it often causes you to look at things from a different viewpoint, which is always valuable.
The most exciting part of my experience thus far has been helping Professor Mogilner with a field study. I helped to collect data with another research assistant in Center City, interacting face to face with the participants. As I mentioned, analyzing results and subjects’ responses can be very interesting, but being able to collect the data yourself is even more so. I hope to help Professor Mogilner with other field studies in the future to gain more experience with the data-collection processes.
Ultimately, being a research assistant has allowed me to learn outside of the classroom, which is something that is important to me. I am lucky to have found a professor whose research interests align closely with my own interests and grateful for all that I learned through the work. I advise other students who want to get involved with research to do the same. I am sure it will make you as happy as I was as a research assistant.
Editor’s note: This blog originally appeared on the Wharton Undergraduate Program’s Student Voices blog on Dec. 9, 2014.