Research often leads to dead ends – results inconclusive, needs further study. For Tyler Petersen ’12, however, his research led to a position with the Federal Reserve Board in Washington, D.C.
While at St. Thomas, Petersen, who is from Albert Lea, Minn., conducted both a Young Scholars research project, dealing with discretionary spending in the U.S. House of Representatives, and a Collaborative Inquiry research project dealing with female congressional candidates and primary elections.
Petersen, 22, had planned to attend graduate school, but he decided to take a break first in order to increase his experience and build his résumé.
“A couple of professors suggested that I take a break from the classroom and do some real-world research to get a better idea of what to expect in graduate school,” Petersen said in an interview. “They suggested that I start applying to think tanks and government agencies.”
The Federal Reserve Board was one of the agencies he applied to, and his St. Thomas research was “definitely a talking point in the interview.”
His Young Scholars research project analyzed newly available data on discretionary, or “earmark,” spending in the U.S. House of Representatives. After testing two empirical models, he noted, “The results indicated that in the 2010 election, earmark spending had no statistically significant impact on either campaign contributions or incumbent re-election likelihood.”
He presented his research at the Midwest Political Science Association Conference in April 2012 in Chicago. “While I was there, I learned that I was doing the right thing for me,” Petersen remarked, “because most of the people there already had Ph.D.s or were grad students … which helped solidify that I wanted to pursue some sort of advanced degree in either political science or economics.”
His Collaborative Inquiry research project examined whether female congressional candidates were more likely to win their primary elections after the success of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin during the 2008 election season. His research determined that, as of the 2010 election, there has been “no statistically significant change with respect to women winning primary congressional elections.”
Petersen points out that he benefited from being able to work closely with a faculty member, his research adviser Dr. Monica Hartmann, Economics Department, College of Arts and Sciences, which gave him individual input on his work, and time to write and rewrite several drafts of his projects as well as explore additional questions that arose during the research process.
“The experience that I got from my research at St. Thomas transfers over really well into what I’m doing right now,” Petersen said. Although he can’t disclose what he is working on at the Federal Reserve Board, he did summarize his job as assisting economists in carrying out their work.
Graduate school is still in his plans, however. “I still have to figure out what I’m most passionate about. I’m fortunate to be exposed to a wide variety of fascinating things in D.C. that I should be able to figure that out in the next couple of years,” Petersen said. “But right now it’s looking like it’ll be some sort of quantitative political science or economics.”
No doubt, further research will be required.
Editor's note: Tyler Petersen’s research was conducted with assistance from the Grants and Research Office’s Summer Housing Grant Program, Student Travel Grant Program, and Young Scholars Grant Program.