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What I’ve Learned as a First-Year Research Assistant

University of Arizona Student

What I’ve Learned as a First-Year Research Assistant

What my experience as a first-year University of Arizona research assistant has been like, and what I’ve learned that could inspire you.

Andrew is getting a head start on building his real-world professional skills through his first-year social science research. Having gotten a taste of practical research in high school, Andrew knows how vital applied experiential learning opportunities are in developing the technical skills and good habits that will benefit him in the future. 

About Andrew Pongrátz

Major: Double major in Philosophy, Politics, Economics, and Law (PPEL) and Economics

Graduating in: 2025

From: Tucson, Arizona

My name is Andrew Pongrátz, and I am a first-year student at UArizona. I'm excited to share the research I am working on with the School of Sociology. 

When I took the SOC 397A Poverty in Tucson Field Workshop with Dr. Brian Mayer, I got the opportunity to interview individuals that had received rental assistance during the later part of the COVID-19 pandemic. This workshop-based course piqued my interest in research and the impact it can have.

As a research assistant for Dr. Mayer and Dr. Erin Heinz, I work with the Pima County Board of Supervisors and the Tucson City Council to advise on new policies to expand economic prosperity across Southern Arizona.

Here's how I got involved in a practical research experience and how it has benefited my academic career so far.


On Becoming a First-Year Research Assistant

When I first started college, I wanted to get hands-on experience with research and an overview of social science research. I signed up for SOC 397A because the course sounded interesting, and I wanted to learn more about poverty in Southern Arizona. I was also drawn to the course due to its applied experiential learning designation, meaning I could go outside the classroom and use my knowledge to support the community.


What I've Learned About Myself Through Research

In the future, I am interested in pursuing a career as a lawyer, and through extensive training in collecting survey data, I have improved my writing and analytical skills. Other technical skills I've gained include using Google Scholar and JSTOR to find valuable sources and explore research already done in the field. 

Much of my time dedicated to research is unstructured, which has taught me about effective time management. I have learned how to create schedules, set calendar due dates, and master project completion. I've also discovered that I enjoy working in a hybrid environment, where I work independently and meet weekly with my mentors and other research assistants in person. 


Why This Type of Research is Important

While I've learned a lot of technical skills, on a deeper level, I have gained a better understanding of poverty-related issues and how poverty affects all people due to its costs to communities and resources. 

As a research assistant, my work applies sociological research techniques to recommend policies and practices for reducing regional poverty. I have had the opportunity to meet tenants, social workers, law enforcement, and others who are connected to housing issues to learn first-hand about their experiences. 


How I Balance My Research With Everything Else in My Life

I will be honest; balancing all my responsibilities is difficult sometimes. When juggling so many different activities, it is essential to ensure you take time to relax and unwind. I go swimming as much as possible. It helps me to relax, readjust, and jump back into all my activities. I enjoy being involved in the community and interacting with many people, but caring for myself is important, so I make time to read and rest. 


My Advice for Wildcats Interested in Research

For Wildcats interested in research and really to all Wildcats, try out a research experience during your studies. Whether taking a class, working one-on-one with a professor, or being part of a research team/lab, conducting research is a very effective way to explore different paths that make sense for you and your goals. There are also so many ways to apply what you learn in your research to other opportunities, like volunteering and presenting at conferences.



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