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Colter Uscola


Colter Uscola
Advisor: Dr. Lisa Dilks, Sociology

Featured Researcher: Colter Uscola

The process of getting an idea, deciding to test it, and compiling enough knowledge to make it happen is absolutely enjoyable. The end result is an amazing feeling. In the end, I'd say getting a better understanding of the social world is what I love most about doing research.

1. Briefly describe your research project and its importance. (Try to write this in a way that people outside of your field will be able to understand).

Sociological research has established that the higher one's social status, the more others evaluate them as competent, moral and deserving of social rewards. This leads to the construction and maintenance of a multitude of social inequalities, from leniency in court cases to increased opportunities to participate and influence group dynamics dependent upon an individual’s status characteristics (i.e., education, gender, race, occupation, etc..). Furthermore, individuals who are perceived as occupying high status roles are often viewed as more trustworthy. Our current study seeks to highlight if and how varied occupational statuses affect trustworthiness and the impact that perceived trustworthiness has on the allocation of positive (i.e., bonuses) and negative (i.e., fine) rewards. We are using white-collar occupations as a backdrop to analyze this process because they are seen as positions of trust and white-collar crime is viewed as a violation of that trust. Through this project we will be contributing to the long standing body of research on status characteristics and reward expectations. Additionally, by understanding the intricacies of social inequalities which are produced through status, we can begin to get a grasp on how to overcome said inequalities and begin evolving into a more uniform society. 

2. How did you first get involved with research?    

Prior to being accepted to WVU, I had recently developed a passion for bettering society. I believed, and still do, that research was one of the most efficient ways of accomplishing that life-long goal. However, I didn't know where to start. I made a stop into WVU's Office of Undergraduate Research to speak with Dr. Michelle Richards-Babb. I had hoped to get into the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience but my past academic experience was a mess. Dr. Babb saw through the past grades and gave me honest advice and the names of a few faculty members that she knew accepted undergraduate researchers. I reached out to those faculty members and volunteered to research over the summer. Under the guidance of Dr. Melissa Patchan, I volunteered 10 hours a week until the upcoming school year when I could allocate my financial aid to get paid for my research position. It's been an absolute pleasure ever since. Without reaching out for help, I would have never made it into the research position I hold today. 

3. What does a day of researching look like for you (tools/methods/setting/etc.)?     

Well, it varies depending upon the phase of the project. The first phase is spent developing a foundation in theory and previous studies done on the research topic by seeking out articles through the WVU library and reading/summarizing them. This can take anywhere from a few weeks to months, depending upon the size and complexity of the study. Next, we begin working on the research design which consists of deciding on the variables that we will analyze, developing measures for analysis, and constructing the survey. At the same time, we focus on filling out the IRB protocol. If approved, we move on to sending the survey out to our sample of participants. Once we have let the data accumulate through participation, we need to take all the data from the survey and transfer it into a dataset in STATA. STATA is an extremely powerful statistical package that runs advanced statistics in a matter of seconds. We line the variables in columns and analyze the interactions between them. From the analysis, we can determine whether our hypotheses were supported or not. Most of the research is done in front of a computer or in discussion with my faculty research mentor. It is contemplative work that is filled with excitement. 

4. What surprised you about doing research?

The amount of time it takes to work through a project. However, the time is well spent. It's like every single second that goes by, the project begins making more and more sense until you are sitting there constructing a survey that will come back with data that can show trends within society. The amount of work we did this summer was amazing but every single moment was a joy to be a part of. 

5. What’s a challenge that you’ve had in your research experience and how did you overcome it?

Learning a survey software on the fly and constructing a randomized multiple-condition survey with four alternative paths that the participants could be steered down. It also included check questions that if answered wrong would send the participants to the end of the survey. As with all things, repetition and practice highlighted the areas of survey construction that I needed to learn. I focused my time on learning those areas and ended up becoming confident in my survey making abilities. 

6. What do you like most about doing research?

If I could leave this answer at 'Everything', I would. However, the process of getting an idea, deciding to test it, and compiling enough knowledge to make it happen is absolutely enjoyable. The end result is an amazing feeling. I haven't had in-depth experience working with STATA yet, but I have a feeling that I am going to love uncovering what the data says. In the end, I'd say getting a better understanding of the social world is what I love most about doing research.

7. How do you spend your time when you’re not researching?

I do a lot of cooking, meditating, reading, contemplating, hiking, biking, and fishing (from most to least). I find that intense study takes a toll on my mental state and I find that cooking meals from scratch helps me to focus and destress. I also experience a lot of "monkey mind" and meditation helps me remain focused when it seems like I have a never ending list of tasks that I should get accomplished. Reading books outside of my area of study brings variety to life and keeps my imagination keen. Contemplation allows me to focus my ideas and the last three get me outside to exercise and connect with nature. This isn't an exhaustive list but it is where I am at today. I believe in recipes for success and this combination of activities has brought a lot of joy and fulfillment to life.