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Partners in Research: A Glimpse Into RA-ship with Nick Davis

This summer, we are featuring some of Huron’s student researchers who collaborated with professors during the 2020-2021 school year! Take a glimpse into Huron student Nick’s research assistant position with Dr. Palaisti and all the terrific work they did!

Nick Davis is a Huron student who recently worked alongside Dr. Palaisti and his fellow RAs on a project exploring self-efficacy and equity in STEM. More specifically, they researched what different communities believe about academic experiences as influenced by their positionality.

The team’s project was called “Why Do I Hate Math? An Exploration of Stereotypes in a Math Classroom,” and there was no shortage of immersive work for Nick: together, they began with a literature review, then formulated questions based on what they learned, and finally created and distributed a survey targeting undergraduates who had taken math courses. The survey explored how four independent variables—gender, racialized group, first-generation student, and self-discipline—influenced 15 dependent variables. “The more research we dug into, the more complicated the questions became,” says Nick. “It helped me understand how complex these issues are.”

Nick emphasises horizontal collaboration was essential in his and Dr. Palaisti’s work. “We were equal partners in research. This whole [assistantship] process is about bringing in new voices from young people. It really provides an opportunity to educate ourselves on issues we’re not familiar with.”

Working as an RA gave Nick a new perspective on accessibility within STEM. “I’ve had to reflect on my positionality as a white male and how this influences the courses I take. It was very easy for me to take up the major. I know that’s a less common experience for my female friends involved in STEM, and I think about the unconscious factors that could play into that. On the one hand, I am grateful for the belief in my abilities, but on the other hand, I have to make sure I’m mindful about the self-beliefs of other people.”

Throughout his time as an RA, Nick says that he has developed valuable research skills, such as effective teamwork and thorough analysis of complex and contradictory data. Further, he has gained important interpersonal insights: “I understand more now how different perspectives can help an educational experience be more enriched and valuable.”

Overall, Nick regards the collaboration as transformative for his understanding of research at the undergraduate level. “Research is not just about finding empirical answers: it’s about understanding issues at a deeper level and uncovering new questions. It should be less focused on the outcome and more on the process. Working with Dr. Palaisti helped me understand how difficult it can be to answer the questions raised.”

Amy Luck, Danika Morrison