At the time of this interview, Sara worked as a Research Assistant at Richmond Fed.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do at UVA, so I took all the Comm school pre-reqs, just in case. I ended up really enjoying the introductory Econ courses and I really liked solving micro problems in 3010, so at that point I decided to stick with economics.
My Career Path:
Between my third and fourth year, I interned at Merkle as a Paid Search Engine Marketing (SEM) analyst. That entailed pulling metrics for clients' ad campaigns and making weekly progress reports. I really enjoyed the analytical part - I learned a lot about SQL and Excel - I didn’t know at the time how valuable those skills would be. Overall, Merkle was a great company to work for. As interns, we received the same training as new-hires. After my internship, I was also able to continue part-time during my fourth year; my co-workers and managers were very supportive.
I took an economic history seminar with Professor Mark Thomas during my fourth year. That class exposed me to reading papers and applying analysis, so I started to consider research-related positions. I met an influential alum at an ECO event (you should attend those!), who suggested I apply to the Richmond Fed.
Being a Research Associate for economists provides a really great launching pad into graduate school. I’m currently applying to grad schools in data science. My co-workers have gone on to grad programs in economics, statistics, law school, etc. What I did not fully appreciate as an undergrad is that all quantitative grad programs require a strong math background. If you’re interested in a grad degree, I recommend trying a calc III or linear algebra class.
What a typical day like for a Research Associate at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond:
I serve three projects right now and split my time between them. One of the projects I’m working on is a paper I am co-authoring which includes a lot of reading, writing and editing. Another project I’m working on is quantifying the differences of occupations, which is rather coding heavy (Stata and Matlab). Finally, I am working on an independent project with another RA; we are analyzing workforce transition rates for women (lots of coding and plotting in R). In addition to project work, we attend seminars from visiting economists and sometimes we give presentations as well. It is intimidating, but very rewarding to receive critiques from economists during presentations.
Tips for Current Students:
Get professors to know you and attend office hours with thoughtful questions. If you are interested in a Research Associate job, ask your professors about it (there is a good chance they were an RA at some point in their careers).
I received a lot of rejections to jobs that I applied to during my fourth year; I did not receive my job offer from the Richmond Fed until after graduation. Ultimately, I am kind of glad I was rejected so many times because I definitely would have taken the first job that was offered. In the end, being an RA at the Richmond Fed was a really great fit for me. My advice is: don't take rejections too harshly, and use them as learning experiences.