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Researcher of the Month
Economics, Mathematics majors, Honors College, Class of 2013
Research Mentors: Dr. Hugo Benitez-Silva, Economics; Dr. Arlene Cassidy, Sustainability Studies
Jason Sockin is a senior in the Honors College, double majoring in Economics andMathematics, with
minors in Computer Science and Sustainability Studies. When he graduates in May, with
a BA Degree and 200 credits completed, including graduate level coursework in Economics,
Jason will be heading to work for the next two years as a Research Assistant for the Federal
Reserve Board of Governors in Washington D.C. And is he prepared!
In Summer 2010, after his freshman year, Jason interned with the Baseball Factory in Maryland, a college baseball recruitment organization, where he did statistical analysis and econometrics. The following summer, Jason worked with Professor Graciela Chichilnisky of Columbia University as a research intern for Global Thermostat, a green technology company. Last summer, Jason volunteered with the office of New York State Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, conducting research for a proposal on NY state education with the goal of developing more equitable distribution of state aid to high need districts—a project that currently is being drafted into a bill to be presented to the NYS Assembly.
Last May, Jason was also selected as a recipient of the “Collier award” from Sustainability Studies to support an independent research project under the direction of Dr. Arlene Cassidy, which involved analyzing sustainability practices of individual universities within the SUNY system. In his senior year, Jason began working with Dr. Hugo Benitez-Silva in Economics on his honors thesis project: an analysis of the impact of the financial crisis on US structural unemployment, particularly focusing on the short-term and long-term implications for laborers with different education levels. Jason will be presenting both the Sustainability and Economics projects at the upcoming campus-wide URECA research poster symposium on April 24th. And he will be giving a talk on his honors thesis project in May at the Honors College Symposium.
While at SB, Jason has also been active as a USG Senator; was an active member of the Environmental Club; and has served as an Instructor of Mathematics, Economics, and Sustainability Studies —including teaching introductory algebra courses. Jason is very thankful for the introduction he got in an Honors College mini course his freshman year: “ … I learned most of what I know in computer science here. Interestingly enough, my first mini course with the honors college was a modeling class with Prof. Thomas Sexton in the Business School. And it was called “Simple solutions to complex world problems.” It was probably one of the greatest courses I’ve taken here. That really broadened my horizons.” Below are excerpts of his interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.
Karen: Tell me about your research project.
Jason: I actually have two projects. My senior honors thesis in Economics with Prof. Hugo Benitez-Silva is an in-depth analysis of the current labor market after the recent recession (2007-2009), specifically analyzing whether or not there has been an increase in structural unemployment with regards to educational attainment. From my research, it appears as though there has been a limited increase in structural unemployment, or a mismatch in skills between those of the employee and those demanded by the employer. Although this mismatch is not dramatic, there is the potential for a much larger increase in structural unemployment among the less educated. This is as a result of the high long-term unemployment rate, the proportion of long-term unemployed that do not have a bachelor’s degree, and the polarization of the labor force into low-skill, low-income and high-skill, high-income occupations. Moreover, possible technological advancements could shift industries by demanding purely skilled labor from highly-educated individuals.
And your second project: is that in Economics also?
Last spring I took a class with Prof. Arlene Cassidy in sustainable economics. She encouraged me to get involved in a summer research project in Sustainability Studies, which I did. My research focused on sustainability throughout the SUNY system. We evaluated a number of sustainable indicators for each of the SUNY universities and colleges, including annual energy consumption, water consumption, waste, recycling, and emissions on a per student basis. Although the project was affected by a lack of available data, the results revealed clear trends across each of these indicators.
Was it difficult to find information, to collect data?
Honestly I found it incredibly hard to get the data for the sustainability research project, and that remained really the struggle throughout …… not that I didn’t get great results. In the end I discovered interesting trends and averages. But you do find obstacles that hinder you from getting data. There was one point that was really challenging because I had collected some very interesting data in comparing annual water consumption among the SUNY schools and one result seemed to be an extreme outlier. Just as I was going to present my project, I learned that the data I initially had received turned out to be inaccurate. . . So you find that sometimes these types of difficulties can occur. The lesson there is that although you may hit obstacles while obtaining data, you can push forward and obtain meaningful results. By contrast, for my thesis project in Economics there’s an abundance of data to work with! Sometimes you get lucky and it’s there. And sometimes it’s not.
What do you think you learn from doing a senior thesis, or from doing an extended research project, such as the Sustainability project you worked on over a summer?
The Honors College requires a thesis. But even if it weren’t required, I’m really glad I did one. I love doing research, and have done several other research projects … in classes, particularly in Economics, you learn a lot but you only learn theory, how it applies. In doing a thesis, you have the ability to go in depth into a topic that you choose, and to learn about things that you wouldn’t cover otherwise. I would say that doing a thesis has dramatically enhanced the education I’ve obtained.
What are the skills that you have that have helped you most in carrying out a senior thesis?
Most importantly, there has to be this passion to understand things further. I have the drive to ask how things work, or, why is it like this . . . I want to understand what interacts with what.
Having a computer science background is also a huge help. And I recommend learning computer science to everyone I know—it’s an extremely valuable tool for analyzing and comparing data.
Was this something you learned as a student here at SB?
Yes, I learned most of what I know in computer science here. Interestingly enough, my first mini course with the honors college was a modeling class with Prof. Thomas Sexton in the Business School. And it was called “Simple solutions to complex world problems.” It was probably one of the greatest courses I’ve taken here. That really broadened my horizons. I am so happy to have taken that course.
Does it get difficult to manage your time, and to balance your thesis work with other activities?
Absolutely. Last semester I was taking 23 credits. I kept feeling like I didn’t have time for the thesis. Thankfully I had the winter break to make a lot of progress. Also, with writing the thesis … it just take time and perseverance. There’s a lot to this topic. When you’re doing a literature review, and initially reading/getting ideas, you have to really develop your argument. Sometimes you’ll have two papers with compelling arguments, opposing each other. Which one do you believe? I had to read a lot to understand what direction I would take the project in.
23 credits is quite a lot to take on!
I tell everyone I know just to take more classes, to learn more. It’s sometimes a challenge to take on so much…but when you enjoy learning, it doesn’t feel like work!