I currently work as a research assistant in the Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability. My position is funded by the Honors College’s Honors Research Assistant Program, and additional project funding is provided by the Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program. I began in the fall of 2014 by assisting a graduate student, Preston Hartman, with his research project. I developed a contact database of Oklahoma water utility managers, and booked appointments for Preston to interview them and gather data. After gaining experience working on Preston’s project, I had the opportunity to conduct my own. During the spring semester, with the help of mentorship from Dr. Gliedt, I created a research project from the ground up. I developed a research question, wrote an abstract, and surveyed water utility managers in three states. My project examines the perception of statewide water conservation goals among local utility managers. It uses both qualitative and quantitative data to study how utilities are working to conserve water, and measure the degree to which conservation efforts are motivated by statewide goals. Additionally, a matrix will be generated that compares water conservation strategies based upon their cost-effectiveness, popularity, and ease of implementation. Climate change is projected to create additional challenges for water utilities in the years to come.
In prior undergraduate courses, I read and cited journal articles. However, during my research experience, I went beyond simply reading research to discover what steps are required to produce it. I learned how to write abstracts, proposals, and literature reviews. I also learned about conducting an effective survey, and identifying a useful question that will advance the field one is working in. Research is no longer something I idly consume; rather, it is now something I have the capacity to contribute to. Through my research, I aim to learn from the expertise of utility managers to determine how statewide policies can most effectively protect vital water resources by spurring community conservation. I would advise aspiring undergraduate researchers to be persistent about seeking out sources of mentorship and funding. Staying in contact with professors who inspire you is helpful, as they are good sources of information regarding conferences and journals. It is also helpful to research Honors College programs (such as HRAP, UROP, and FYRE) that support undergraduate research. Learning about current challenges in your field is useful for creating a relevant project. Finally, it is important to be dedicated to answering your research question. Conducting a research project requires effort, but provides a feeling of accomplishment not just in advancing your career, but in generating knowledge that can help solve real-world challenges.
In April 2015, I will present my project at the Texas State Geography Student Research Symposium. Later that month, I will present at the Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting in Chicago. Funding for both presentations will be provided by the Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability.