Aaron Miles and Dr. Benjamin Gibbs, Department of Sociology
Our project has culminated with a presentation at the 2012 American Sociological Association conference in Denver, and is currently under review at the journal Social Science Research. We hope to heard back in the coming weeks in regarding its status, hopefully receiving a revise and resubmit.
In the early stages of this project, it was my job to assemble descriptive statistics about extracurricular activity (EA) participation. I created crosstabs on the dataset using SPSS and Stata software packages. While not very advanced analyses, these crosstabs became the foundation for our argument. They showed that as the percentage of students within a club went up, the percent of them going to college went up. I did this analysis over summer to keep the project afloat while my professors were mainly occupied with other projects.
Before professors conducted the advanced analyses, I was assigned to write the introduction and literature review for the paper. This was a good exercise in synthesizing literature and gave me the opportunity to frame the argument in conduction with pre-existing literature. Even though we did not keep a lot of the original draft, this experience enabled me to better understand my coauthors when they talked about certain methods and terminology and contribute to conversation
After running regression analysis along with more advanced techniques such as propensity score matching and sensitivity analysis, results showed that our preliminary analyses were correct. Over and above traditional explanations for why EA mattered (character building, structured after school time), the percentage of students within a club who had at least one parent who attended college had a significant impact on college enrollment rates. More advanced analysis showed that this effect persisted even when accounting for selection effects (the kind of kids who participate are fundamentally different than those who do not.
The next step was writing the paper we would send to the Sociology of Education journal. I got to play a big part in this process. Instead of writing a full paper, I was assigned to write specific sections at a time. For example, Professor Gibbs would give me twenty of so articles on a topic and I would have to synthesize them into a single page. I did this for three or four topics, and while at the time it seemed mundane, it was actually one of the most useful experiences I had on the project. I learned how much research goes into every word of an academic paper, as well as gaining valuable insights into the specific topics I had to research, such as how friends affect academic performance, how the socioeconomic composition of schools and classes affect achievement, and how to control for selection effects (controlling for the possibility that people who do a certain thing are fundamentally different than those who don’t).
In August, we had the opportunity to present at the American Sociological Association conference. This was an incredible experience for me for a variety of reasons. First, I had the opportunity to meet with potential graduate schools and learn more about what it was like to be a graduate student at these schools. Aside from motivating me to continue my studies into graduate school, I know that admissions officers now can attach a face to my application, which hopefully will help my chances of acceptance and funding. Second, I got to see a lot of the fascinating research being conducted. I really enjoyed seeing people who have similar questions to my own, as well as people in my own situation who I got to network with. Third, presenting our research was rewarding because I got to see how it fit into the field, and how people responded to it firsthand. I felt very accomplished that I was able to present my research at such a high level. At least one professor at a graduate school I am applying to was impressed, which may result in my being accepted somewhere.
Unfortunately, our paper was rejected at Sociology of Education. However, the reviews showed things that were fixable and were, for the most part, positive. We have had to expand our analysis to control for school level composition and because I learned how to perform regressions, I was able to help in such analysis. We have now submitted to Social Science Research and are awaiting a reply. I am also conducting a follow-up study to test for how this composition effect varies by school context, race, and gender.
Receiving an ORCA grant has enabled me to participate in the academic writing process, learn statistical analysis techniques that I would not have had the opportunity to learn otherwise, increase my chances of attending graduate school, and overall increase my passion for sociology.