During the summer of 2022, Jai Kasera ’23 wanted to know more about why it cost so much to put gas in his car.
“It turns out that this simple exploration revealed inflation to be the driving force,” he said. “This led me to investigate the root cause of inflation itself, which turned into a bigger question of what inflation truly means, its causes and effects and what can be done to address it.”
Kasera’s interest in further analyzing the roots and potential solutions of inflation began earlier that summer at the Cleveland Federal Reserve’s Research Coding Camp, where he used statistical methods to analyze the gender pay cap. He recalled, “Although it was only a week long, it was my first taste of academic research and sparked my interest in thinking about other ways to apply what I was learning in the classroom to real-life problems in economics.”
Though Kasera had the tools to begin, he wanted to take his research a step further. Fortunately, he knew exactly who to ask for help.
“I took American foreign involvement as my history elective junior year with Howie Powers ’80. During one of our class debates about tax laws, he was very passionate about the economic ramifications and policies driving reform. This inspired me to approach him with a draft of the inflation paper I was working on, and he spent a lot of time helping me develop and critically analyze ideas. It was very helpful to have the support of a faculty member with professional and academic experience in this area.”
Once the paper was ready, it was time to submit to scholarly journals for publication. For guidance in the process, he turned to his advisor and Acting Head of Upper School Christian Rhodes.
Kasera shared, “Mr. Rhodes helped me look for journals that would be a good fit for the paper. I spent around nine months working on the research paper and seven months in the review and publishing process. Both faculty members were very eager to offer their time and expertise, and they helped me tremendously.”
Read Kasera and Powers’ partnered article, “Using economic indicators to create an empirical model of inflation.”
Lessons from the Classroom Inspire Real-World Analysis
During some casual viewing of the Food Network’s highly acclaimed show Chopped, Maya Sethuraman ’24 noticed a gender disparity.
“In most episodes,” she explained, “it appeared that women were eliminated more often than men and won less often than men. This made me curious as to whether my observations were correct or if female chefs' representation in the contestant pool was low to begin with.”
Sethuraman would soon find that her observations were actually supported by empirical evidence but, in order to get there, she needed three things: her dad, guidance from a professor of political science and to harness her analytical training from PDS.
Sethuraman’s research was co-authored by her father and Farida Jalalzai, Ph.D., a political science professor at Virginia Tech. Sethuraman shared, “My dad helped me take a data-driven approach to this project. Professor Jalalzai’s research focuses on analyzing the role of women in the political arena. When my dad and I discussed our initial observations and analysis with her, she provided insights that were critical in furthering our work.”
Also critical to the work was the ability to gather appropriate resources and apply them to the project.
“Most of the data collection and analysis for the project was done during the end of my freshman year and through my sophomore year. The rigorous math and computer science classes at PDS enabled me to advance my analytical skills, which ultimately helped with this research,” she said.
Throughout the project, Sethuraman analyzed over 500 episodes of Chopped. Her research ended up diving deeper than her original observation and “also explored if the gender makeup of Chopped was an accurate reflection of the gender makeup of the culinary profession.”
With encouragement from Jalalzai, Sethuraman and her father proceeded with submitting the work for publication. Understanding the importance of obtainable information, she says, “We weren't initially considering publishing this work. However, once I started researching further and discussing the work with my dad and Professor Jalalzai, we decided to attempt to make this project accessible to more people.”
Read Sethuraman’s co-authored publication, “Women on the Chopping Block? Gender Dynamics on the Popular Food Network Show.”