Exploring an Unpredictable Variable: People

Diana Funez

Student Profile: Madeleine Johnson, AB’20 (Economics/Statistics, expected)

“It’s interesting to see how things that you don’t think would be connected at all can actually be helped by one another,” says rising second year Madeleine Johnson. Building upon her work experience and exposure to different fields in high school, this Economics and Statistics major drew connections between her work and experience outside of the classroom to Social Sciences courses this year.  


Just months after having graduated from high school, Johnson challenged herself find an internship. “I wanted to do something interesting as a high schooler going into college,” she says. Though she initially feared she would not find an internship because of her limited experience, she found a position advertising natural men’s grooming products for an Ecommerce start-up by working on sales through social media. Focusing on Instagram and other social media outlets, she helped gain awareness for the company in its first few months.


This summer, she returned to her work and added to her skills through key word analysis. Key word analysis, explains Johnson, involves thinking about specific key terms that are likely to show up when someone is searching for a product. “Say you’re looking for facewash for sensitive skin,” says Johnson. “If someone has those key words somewhere, then it’ll be more likely to come up.”


When media—an important part of her work—was a topic studied in her Self, Culture, and Society (SOSC 12100-12200-12300) course, Johnson was interested. “I really liked talking about the influence of media and combining that with thought,” she says. “It’s cool how you can relate these old, philosophical people to modern issues that seem menial but do influence media.” She cites how people used to believe that the Earth was flat but changed their minds after scientific evidence proved that it was round. “After enough people start believing in it, it becomes the norm,” she says. Johnson was further drawn into the course by the enthusiasm of her professors, Professor Sarah Adcock and Associate Professor Hussein Ali Agrama, both of the Anthropology Department.


Although Johnson is not majoring in Psychology, the tie between her summer position and the Self course made her reflect on her interest in how people think and even on her studies in Economics. “One unpredictable variable is people, and that’s what I think is really important to study because you never know what they are going to do,” says Johnson. “You can make as many models as you want but you are never going to know what is actually going to happen until people start responding.” This was mentioned in her first Economics course, Introduction to Microeconomics (ECON 19800), but she hopes to study it further in Introduction to Psychology (PSYC 20000) this year. 


Learning outside of the classroom has motivated Johnson to explore outside of her majors. Besides continuing in the Economics Core by enrolling in the main sequence and in the Statistics Core by taking Statistical Theory and Methods (STAT 24400), she is considering a linguistics course, Introduction to Linguistics (LING 20001) this fall. “How do we develop language, how do we interpret language?” she asks. “I want to learn more about that.”


Johnson doesn’t know what her future plans hold for her, but she is looking into courses interrelating Economics and Law for future years. In the shorter term, she hopes to study abroad in Barcelona or Morocco. To prepare for the possible trip to Barcelona, she says she wants to brush up on the skills she gained in Spanish from high school. “I went there on a trip with my [high] school while I was taking Spanish,” she says, “and it was so nice to being able to speak the language.” On the other hand, she sees Morocco as an opportunity to step away from what she has experienced before. “I want to have a different experience and Morocco seems so different,” she says.