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Mikaela Meyer


Mikaela Meyer

Ph.D Student, Statistics and Public Policy Program

Carnegie Mellon University


"I was most scared of starting over again. I had such great friends, mentors, and experiences at Purdue, and I was nervous that I wouldn’t find that elsewhere. I remembered that the transition to college was a little tough for me, and I imagined the transition to graduate school would be even tougher. However, I kept in contact with my Purdue friends and mentors; chatting with them made me feel as though I wasn’t going through this transition alone. Also, after going through the experiences of joining and becoming very involved in on-campus organizations and talking to faculty members outside of class at Purdue, I was prepared to become an active member of my department at Carnegie Mellon. I would tell students who are about to graduate to be excited for the fresh start. There’s no reason why you can’t stay in contact with the people who were important to you at Purdue, and you’ll make new friends at your next destination as long as you continue to put yourself out there."

What was your major/minor at Purdue and when did you graduate?

I majored in Mathematical Statistics and Applied Statistics and minored in Political Science. I graduated in May 2018.

What was your most compelling class and why?

I would say I had two equally very compelling classes: Intro to Statistical Computing and Women, Politics and Public Policy. Intro to Statistical Computing was a graduate course that I took as a junior that helped me become more comfortable with coding in R. Those coding skills have served me well in internships and graduate school. That class also prepared me to take the Ph.D. course in Computational Statistics my senior year, which was challenging, but also helped me feel more confident in my decision to pursue a Ph.D. in statistics. Women, Politics, and Public Policy in the Department of Political Science helped me feel more comfortable discussing gender-based issues with others. As a result of taking that class, I also try harder to account for and correct some of the implicit biases I hold.

What are you currently working on?

I spent the past year mostly taking classes, but I also began a research project that involves looking at racial discrepancies in police actions within a city. In cities where racial discrepancies exist, we hope to eventually have a better understanding if the discrepancies vary the most at the precinct-level or neighborhood-level.

What drove you to pursue your current career path?

As a freshman, I applied for and was accepted into the Sophomore Statistics Living-Learning Community. I began working on a project that involved using Bayesian statistics to prescribe policies for countries in the Lake Chad Basin in Africa, who are struggling with the Lake’s constantly changing volume. Through this project, I realized that I wanted to have a career using statistics to guide public policy. I also spent a lot of time talking to Dr. Mark Ward about my interests in statistics and public policy. He eventually gave me a book called Leadership and Women in Statistics. The first chapter of that book was written by Katherine Wallman, who was at that time the Chief Statistician of the United States. I didn’t even know that position existed, so I did more research about it and realized working for a federal statistics agency would fit perfectly with my interests.  I continued taking Political Science courses at Purdue, became an undergraduate fellow at the Purdue Policy Research Institute, and worked on multiple research projects that all dealt with statistics and public policy. Those experiences further pushed me toward pursuing a career at the intersection of statistics and public policy.

Did you pursue internships/co-ops, research experiences, volunteer, or join student organizations while you attended Purdue?

I joined multiple organizations, such as the debate team and College Democrats, which helped me make many friends outside of my classes who came from a variety of backgrounds and had a wide range of academic interests.  They broadened my worldview and reminded me to step away from work every now and then to refresh.  I also gained invaluable leadership experiences through these organizations. I worked on multiple research projects that gave me the opportunity to see how I could apply statistical methods to political science and public policy questions.  I began researching as a sophomore through the Statistics Living-Learning Community (now part of The Data Mine) and worked with other faculty members who I either took a course with or was connected to by another faculty member. The experiences I had outside of the classroom lead me to consider going to graduate school to prepare for a career at the intersection of statistics and public policy. Without my undergraduate research experiences, I don’t know if I would have realized how important it was for me to work on statistics projects with social impact. Also, I am confident that having multiple undergraduate research experiences helped me greatly when I went to apply for Ph.D. programs.

Are there any special accomplishments you've achieved after college that you might not have been able to do without your college experiences?

In 2008-2010, I went back to school (IU) to get an MBA degree.  Upon graduation, I earned an “Academic Excellence Award” for my grades.  I have also earned multiple awards while at Lilly including the LRL President’s Scientific Recognition Award.  I think my undergraduate education at Purdue set me up for these awards by teaching me the technical rigor and the scientific thought processes that need to be applied when trying to complete any scientific endeavor.

What advice would you give to prospective or current Purdue students about how to make the best use of what Purdue offers?

Connect with faculty members who will support you and connect you to multiple opportunities. Purdue is a huge university, and it’s easy to be anonymous in bigger classes. However, making an effort to go to office hours is an easy way to get to know faculty. Even if you don’t have homework questions, you can ask them about potential research opportunities, whether they have advice for you based on your future interests, or what other courses might be of interest to you. Almost every amazing opportunity I had at Purdue, from earning scholarships to traveling abroad, can be traced back to me connecting with a faculty member in his/her office hours.

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