Getting involved on campus is one of the best ways to get the most out of your undergraduate degrees. One of the best ways to prepare for life after undergraduate school, whether you are going to graduate school or moving on to a career in economics, is to participate in undergraduate research.

Working on a research project will allow you to develop the following

  1. Communication- Being able to communicate well through writing and presentations is an important skillset.

  2. Working with data- Access to data is easier today than ever before. Being able to manage data, process it, and make sense of it will help you with your career or graduate studies.

  3. Project management- a research paper requires working on multiple items and progressing successfully through each task. Creating short term deadlines to meet the end goal helps you learn how to manage long term projects.

  4. Receiving feedback- Receiving and processing constructive criticism can be difficult at first. However, it is an important skillset to develop. The research process allows you the opportunity to receive feedback from your peers, faculty, and the public.

  5. Evidence of learning- Graduate schools and employers will be interested in evidence of your learning while in school. While a high GPA helps signal that you did well in class, a research paper and presentation will help provide evidence of the skills you learned at school.



  1. Learn how to use statistical software


The two most popular software options are Stata and R

As a student you can purchase the STATA/IC for $198. Download STATA. The UCLA Institute for Digital Research and Education is a great place to start for tutorials on how to use Stata.

R and R-studios Resources to learn how to use R using Data Camp and/or UCLA Institute for Digital Research and Education. R is open source software. You can download it here (Mac or Windows)


2. Selecting a research topic


There are several ways to choose a topic. The most important part of selecting a topic is to make sure that you are interested in it. Second, select an advisor to work with. Optimally, you will choose an advisor that has written in that area and can guide you through the literature. My research is in financial literacy, financial outcomes, and financial markets. If you are interested in working with me your topic should be related to these topics.

After choosing a topic, you and your advisor should narrow down the research question. It is my experience that undergraduate students tend to ask too broad of a question that is hard to answer in a semester. Your advisor will help you start your literature review. The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina has great advice on how to approach your literature review.


3. Finding data


Finding a research question is relatively easy; finding the data is harder. While it is typically recommended to start with the question then find the data, another approach is to find the data then finding an original question that can be answered using that data. I will leave this decision to you and your advisor.

Here are some data sets to get you started.

  1. American Community Survey (ACS)

  2. American Housing Survey (AHS)

  3. National Financial Capabilities Study (NFCS)

  4. Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking (SHED)

Here are examples of published papers that used these data sets.

  1. Goodman, L. S., & Mayer, C. (2018). Homeownership and the American Dream. Journal of Economic Perspectives32(1), 31-58. (AHS)

  2. Al‐Bahrani, A., Weathers, J., & Patel, D. Racial Differences in the Returns to Financial Literacy Education. Journal of Consumer Affairs. (NFCS)