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Student News December 21, 2023

Four seniors receive 2023 Junior Prizes to celebrate top grades, excellent independent research

The Economics Department at Princeton is celebrating four students as recipients of this year’s Junior Prizes: Gloria Wang (1st place), Samantha Lee (2nd place), Aaron Ventresca (3rd place co-winner) and Henry Wright (3rd place co-winner).

The prizes, awarded based on students’ GPAs through the end of junior year and an assessment of the student’s Junior Independent Work (JIW), recognize top students moving into their senior year. 

For 1st-place winner Gloria Wang, independent research was “incredibly rewarding”

To be recognized with a Junior Prize, students must earn top marks in challenging courses while also producing an impressive Junior Paper. 

For 1st-place prize winner Gloria Wang, whose Junior Paper is titled “The Effect of Marijuana Decriminalization on Opioid Prescribing Rates,” the process of completing the paper wasn’t easy or straightforward. But it was rewarding.

Gloria Wang receives 2023 top Junior Prize

“It was incredibly rewarding to see how a simple research question could be answered with data and how this analysis could hold real-world policy implications,” Wang said.

For Wang, deciding on a topic or specific research question for her paper was the most challenging part of the process. She knew she was interested in topics at the intersection of health, technology, and public policy, but it took a lot of reading and several conversations with her advisor, Professor Kelly Noonan, to begin narrowing down a long list of potential topics.

In the end, Wang found inspiration in a discussion from her Law and Economics class. Learning about different ways drug policies relate to economics pointed her in the right direction. With the help of her advisor, she began to explore several datasets related to drug policy. 

“I knew I had found the topic I wanted to explore.”

Advice for other student researchers

Having finished their junior year with strong GPAs and outstanding independent research projects, this year’s Junior Prizes winners had some advice for students at the beginning of the independent research process.

For Aaron Ventresca, whose paper is titled “The Effect of Originality on Consumer Choice: An Empirical Study of Contemporary Broadway Musicals,” the hardest part of the process was building his own dataset. His advice was to streamline the research process by using existing datasets, and also–start early. Ventresca is also a student of multiple certificate programs, including Finance, Spanish, Musical Theatre, and Theatre.

“The key is to start early and set weekly deadlines to keep yourself accountable,” Ventresca said. 

Samantha Lee, whose paper is titled “The Effect of Broadband Access on Mental Health: A U.S. State and MMSA Level Analysis from 2014-2019,” said Professor Swati Bhatt’s “Economics of the Internet” class helped inspire her topic. Combining what she’d learned about broadband access from the class with her own interests in health and health care helped her decide on a topic she was passionate about.

“I know it’s said time and time again but I found that my enthusiasm for the topic was a big motivator for me,” said Lee. “I would also emphasize the importance of starting early and using the resources available to you. Getting feedback and help from data librarians, Econ Statistical Services (ESS), my advisor, my Assistant-in-Instruction (AI), and my peers was invaluable in getting through the research process and forming the final paper.”

For her part, Wang—who is also pursuing certificates in Finance and Statistics & Machine Learning—encouraged students to study what’s most interesting to them, but to start exploring that interest early in the semester given how much reading can be required. She also encouraged students to be open-minded and ask for help. 

“Writing your Junior Paper isn’t a linear path, and there are many points at which you can pivot. Don’t be afraid if your research leads you down a different path than the one you initially set out to explore.”

“Roadblocks are natural in the research process, but there are many resources available to you at every stage of the Junior Paper. Schedule times to check in with your advisor and your Assistant-in-Instruction (AI), and don’t be afraid to reach out to other professors who may be experts in your topic. The Economics Statistical Services (ESS) is also a fantastic resource for data analysis. And finally, make sure to use your network of peers! They are all going through the same writing process, so they can be a great help for talking through your ideas and offering feedback.”

For more advice, information, or resources on Junior Papers, visit the Junior Independent Work (JIW) page on the Economics Department website.

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