‘A high impact practice,’ students and faculty discuss the research process at Oxy

Published Students
Mary Hancock (senior), economics major, in Fowler at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. March 30, 2023. Milan Coleman/The Occidental

Mary Hancock (senior) recently became the first student at Occidental to publish a peer-reviewed academic paper in economics. While co-authoring with students is rare, especially in economics, Occidental has a long history of student research, which occasionally results in publication.

“We studied the impact of COVID-19 on Chinese trade and production,” Hancock said.

According to Hancock, she worked on the research with economics professor Jesse Mora, who she happened to meet by chance.

“I was working in the Oxy library in summer 2021, and then I bumped into professor Mora while I was getting lunch,” Hancock said. “He asked if I wanted to research with him.”

Hancock said that when she started work on the paper with Mora, she had to independently learn the statistical software Stata, which she had not known before. According to Hancock, she joined after much of the literature review had been completed, so she focused on working with the data.

Mora said that the paper was inspired by the impacts on supply chains as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Published Students
Assistant professor Jesse Mora of the Economics department in his Fowler office at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. March 30, 2023. Milan Coleman/The Occidental

“It was about a year into COVID, and at that time there was a lot of news about disruptions in trade,” Mora said. “So I decided to work on a paper that looked at the impact on global supply chains.”

According to Mora, the more countries that the supply chain for a particular product goes through, the more likely that the product was disrupted in the pandemic.

“If you make everything in your country, only shocks that affect your country will affect you,” Mora said. “But with long supply chains, even if there’s no COVID in your country, you can still be affected.”

Publishing with students is rare in the economics department, according to Mora, but he said that he felt Hancock’s work on the project warranted co-authorship.

“What’s more common is the student works as a research assistant,” Mora said. “I’m hoping that I will influence other professors to publish with other students.”

In comparison, students tend to drive much of the research in the chemistry department, according to professor Jeff Cannon. Cannon said that students do nearly all of the experimental work, and he works with them while writing up their papers.

“Often, [students] are more familiar with the details of the project than I am,” Cannon said.

According to Cannon, the subject of his most recent paper published about a year ago was a new reaction that used visible light as an energy source.

“[The process] involves a new reactive intermediate that hadn’t been generated in this way before,” Cannon said. “This new way of generating that intermediate was much more green and accessible than previous methods.”

Most of the members of the lab groups in the chemistry department are either juniors or seniors, according to professor Raul Navarro, but he also said that he has had sophomores or first-year students engage with his research.

“One of the things that I think Oxy does a good job of is finding, developing and acquiring funding to support students all throughout their career in research,” Navarro said.

According to Navarro, his lab group’s first paper was recently published with four undergraduates as co-authors, and that he is working on follow-up research currently. However, since Occidental is an undergraduate-only institution, Navarro said that managing project handoff can be a challenge.

“The way we control that is to make sure everyone has a lab notebook that is very clearly labeled,” Navarro said. “We try to make the handoff as seamless as possible.”

According to Cannon, he also ensures that handoffs are successful by having more experienced students train newcomers. Cannon said that most of the students who end up doing research with him originally came from one of his classes.

“Most students want to work with me because they’ve already had a positive experience with me in the classroom or because I’m their adviser,” Cannon said.

Mora also said that most of his research assistants are current or former students, but working with Hancock was a special case.

“A lot of times, I like to work with former students, because I know them and I have a better sense of what they can and cannot do,” Mora said. “In the case of Mary [Hancock], I asked her to work with me because I saw her potential.”

Cannon and Navarro both said that they enjoy the research process and working on it with Occidental students.

“It’s really exciting … getting a chance to mentor students, getting a chance to get them excited about chemistry, about research,” Navarro said. “Research is really tough because most of the time the things that you do don’t work.”

Hancock said that her work on the paper with Mora inspired her to dig deeper into research.

“I fell in love with research because of this project,” Hancock said. “I hope to go into economic research and hopefully get a Ph.D. in econ.”

Contact Avinash Iyer at iyera@oxy.edu


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