A Student’s Perspective on Research; Andrew’s Story

Interview and Article by Tintin Nguyen, An Undergraduate Research Ambassador at the University of Arizona

Andrew Soderberg, a senior in Environmental and Water Resource Economics at the University of Arizona, loves visiting national parks. When Dr. Anna Josephson introduced Soderberg to the Applied International Development Economics (AIDE) Lab because of his impressive academic performance and preceptorship, he wanted to combine his interests in national parks with his interdisciplinary studies in natural resources and economics.

This interdisciplinary research approach lies at the heart of the AIDE lab. Led by Dr. Anna Josephson and Dr. Jeffrey Michler, the group investigates a wide range of factors impacting the global economy, including food insecurity, agricultures, climate change, and the socioeconomic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Soderberg is personally examining the evolution of national parks in the past century and the relevant environmental issues to inform policies for sustainable

Soderberg explained his research, “I process, organize, and analyze data on about 370 national parks on a programming software called Stata. I run regression models and geo-spatial analysis to create a map of connections between national parks and its evolution over time. I study how environmental factors like wildfire and flood impact national parks and their visitors.”

The beginning of the project was not as exciting as Soderberg initially expected. He shared, “There was a lot of grunt work like converting data files. It took a lot of time to read literature and learn new coding syntaxes to figure out the research’s direction.”

However, he found these challenges to be rewarding, “After the initial stage, once I found the workflow and the questions I wanted to answer, I became much more motivated and productive. I am really proud of my recent data visualization works, which show clear spillover effects of visitors from the oldest parks in the early 20th century until now.”

National parks are not the only things he has learned during his project. Independence,
perseverance, and problem-solving skills are as important as the questions he is pursuing. He
reflected on his experience, “In the workforce, it’s not like schools where you have a list of
assignments where there is a set answer. You have to figure it out and problem solve. Maybe you
spend time coding something and it doesn’t work, so you have to start it again.”

Soderberg aspires to continue his spirit of inquiry, love for problem-solving, and interdisciplinary
interests to a Masters in Applied Economics after completing his undergraduate degree. He
believes that his undergraduate research project provides him an interesting preview into his future
life. Also, the graduate students in his research group have given him plenty of advice in applying
to graduate programs.

Soderberg also has advice for undergraduate students who are interested in starting their own
research, “Professors are super open to give you an opportunity. It doesn’t have to be advanced or
fancy. Professors understand you are undergraduate students who are curious and excited to learn
something new. My biggest advice is to just ask. There is always an opportunity for you to start
something. In a research institution like UA, the level of respect for you as a student and as a
potential researcher is way greater than you assume.”

Andrew Soderberg | Senior in Environmental and Water Resource Economics

By Sarah Randolph
Sarah Randolph