Admissions Blog

Pursuing Research Opportunities at SIPA with Sherri Zhang MPA '23

By Shally Baloch '23
Posted Mar 09 2023

SIPA offers so many options to supplement your academics and many students choose to work on research projects with professors or the various institutes that SIPA houses. Today, I spoke with Sherri Zhang, a second year MPA - USP and DAQA student, who works with the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy conducting research for the Communities Speak project. If you are interested in developing your research skills, there are a multitude of options.


What were you doing prior to joining SIPA?

I was working in San Francisco as a Research and Policy Associate at a California child care nonprofit (California Child Care Resource & Referral Network). I mainly worked with data to look at the supply and demand of child care providers in California.

Why did you choose to do research at SIPA after already having a research background?

I enjoyed doing research at my previous job, but I wanted to gain more skills and to do research on social policies outside of child care. The research project, Communities Speak, I am currently on serves as a needs assessment of NYC government resources and covers policy topics from education to food insecurity to public safety.

Can you tell us a bit more about Communities Speak’s mission?

Communities Speak is a research project developed by Columbia University and funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies that aims to increase the diversity and influence of community voices in policy-making, by developing data-driven dialogue between community leaders, constituents, and governments. We partner with community-based organizations throughout New York to make sure city leaders know what New Yorkers and their communities actually need.

What are the projects that you are working on? What new skills are you exploring?

I am interested in using data analysis in policy making, but I’ve been learning more about data collection. I mostly work on creating and adapting surveys, including our baseline needs assessment that is disseminated every 6 months, as well as modules, which are shorter policy topic-specific surveys. I ensure that the surveys are ready for the next survey cycle by creating, removing, or modifying questions. We need to ensure that the survey is asking the right questions to be able to collect the data we want to collect and to be able to look into the hypotheses we have.

What is the coolest part or most unexpected part of your experience?

The coolest part is that the student researchers are really making a lot of the decisions and guiding the project. I love working with other SIPA students on the project and being able to learn from them!

How did you find the opportunity?

I found it in my concentration Urban and Social Policy’s newsletter.

In what ways do you feel like research supplements your academics?

I’ve been able to develop more practical skills that I wouldn’t be able to find in a classroom. It’s also helped me network with organizations across NYC and with other students at SIPA.

Do you hope to continue research after you graduate?

For now, I want to explore a career outside of research but I definitely will be able to use the skills I have learned during my time here, including critical thinking, effective writing, and collaboration.