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Honors Outside the Classroom: Batu El

Publication date

October 27, 2020 7:15 PM


Batu El

Halfway through my college journey, I am reflecting on my experiences and considering what lies ahead, especially between the obscurities of the pandemic and life after college.

I came to London to study five weeks ago. My courses at the London School of Economics have already started to gear up a bit. Four days a week, I go to the campus for my in-person classes, including a microeconomics class on Saturday afternoons. LSE's campus is lively. During my first three weeks, pubs on campus were ideal for continuing a gripping conversation with fellow students. Now, with "Tier-2" high alert level restrictions in place--that prohibit socially meeting with anyone you don't live with--I began participating in Zoom socials; I never thought I would. Although video calls are not anywhere close to the real thing, I did have meaningful conversations in online socials, and they are time efficient. Acknowledging what the current situation requires, I try to get the most out of my experience safely. 

Before coming to London, I spent seven months in Turkey, catching up with friends from high school. Many people expressed their boredom in social isolation. For me, it was the opposite: I was thrilled as my friends and I developed Chember to help people find pickup basketball games and connect with streetball communities. In high school, I was the point guard on my basketball team, and I would have never imagined that my teammates and I were going to get together years later and develop a mobile application. We probably could not have done so if it wasn't for the pandemic. With coruscating team spirit, we aim to transcend the experience of setting up casual basketball games and following fellow ballers with a gamified interface that promotes health and exercise. Inspired by the class I had just taken at Tulane, History of the Digital Revolution, I paid utmost attention to the rights of our users. How should we deal with users who post inaccurate information? Or, what is the appropriate way to use the data of our users? Professor Isaacson's voice echoed in my head throughout the process, whether I was writing Python code or the privacy policy. 

In July, I got to work closely--and remotely--with Professor Button from the Economics Department on my project funded by an Honors Summer Research Grant. I have been working as a research assistant for Professor Button for two semesters. Working with him is great: He is giving me advice on preparing for a research career. Over the summer, Professor Button and I used the dataset from one of his previous studies, which sent fictitious resumes to job postings to collect data about their discriminatory hiring practices. I took the analysis one step further by testing for variation in age discrimination throughout the business cycle. The Honors Program was very supportive during the process, firstly, by providing funding for my research despite the pandemic. Secondly, and more importantly, the Honors Program motivated me to apply to grants and fellowships, showing me different avenues to pursue my academic interests in the colloquium, the Quest for Answers.

This summer, I also had the great fortune of participating in the Stacy Mandel Palagye and Keith Palagye Program for Middle East Peace. My virtual Israel experience was one of the highlights of my socially isolated summer. I was exposed to different narratives about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which broadened my perspective. In my research project, I investigated the economic initiatives' role and questioned the possibilities for local economic development that avoids negative political spinoffs. I arranged video interviews with many experts and locals, whose perspectives I reflected on in my writing. 

When I first came to Tulane, I had a great passion for studying economics. After taking Professor Vignat's Honors “Multivariable Calculus” class, his genuine enthusiasm triggered my interest in mathematics. Tulane gave me enough flexibility in my curriculum to follow my curiosity. I took classes that nourished my intellectual enthusiasm and introduced me to concepts that I cannot stop thinking about. "Machine Learning" with Dr. Hamm from the computer science department was one of them. My conversations with Dr. Hamm ignited my curiosity on the topic, and his invitation to his research lab gave me a chance to explore it further. Every Wednesday afternoon, I connect to a video call from London to discuss Bayesian Optimization. Dr. Hamm joins the call in the morning from New Orleans, and others still participate in China late at night. We refine our ideas together, and our collaboration thrives beyond distance and time differences.

I feel that I stand on a milestone as I begin my junior year in college. Tulane has offered me many opportunities and resources to pursue my academic interests. Along the way, I have met people who inspire me with their dedication to their work. We do not know when the pandemic will end or what will be the burden of entering the job market in a recession on our careers in the long run. But I know Tulane will continue to support me, as it did during the past eight months and the past two years, and as it is still doing, as I study across the ocean.