Storytelling through Data: Abigail Budiman and Her Work as a Research Analyst

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Abby's graduation in 2017
Abby, her older sister, and her younger brother during Abby's graduation from Syracuse University in 2017.
Graduation picture courtesy of Abigail Budiman
Abby was all smiles during her graduation from Syracuse University in 2017

I met Nathalie Abigail Budiman (Abby) in 2007 when we were both middle school students in an international school in South Tangerang. She was known as a bright, helpful, and friendly girl who always did her best in everything. In 2017, Abby graduated Magna Cum Laude with Departmental Distinction from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University in New York with a Bachelor’s of Science in Economics. Upon graduation, she returned to the company she had previously secured an undergraduate internship with, Pew Research Center. Abby’s story is an example of how modern young Indonesian women can and should embody the spirits of our national heroine Raden Ajeng Kartini, who fought hard to make sure everyone, regardless of gender, would be able to receive the highest education possible to reach empowerment and emancipate others in the process.

Abby is happy with her work as a research analyst because she knows she is learning something new every day through the work that she does and through the conversations that she has with her coworkers, who help her gain new perspectives and concepts that expand her world view. When asked about what she thinks of her success as a global citizen and a lifelong learner, Abby responded that she tells herself to work extremely hard every single day, to never take anything for granted, and to remember all the privilege her parents have afforded her. Her goal is to dedicate her career to a better future and to contribute towards making the world a better place. She is in the process of looking into PhD programs in economics or political economy and studying for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Her ultimate goal is to be a computational social scientist or economist, ideally in companies or institutions that embody the same ideals as her own. Her current interests lie in labor economics and international finance, specifically around the realms of migration and demography.

At first, Abby had envisioned a future in which she grew up to be a broadcast journalist. However, after attending college, she realized that conventional journalism does not tend to employ an advanced understanding of mathematics. This desire to make use of mathematics finally became Abby’s reason to choose an expertise in social science research, which combines mathematics with a high command of written English – since the research needs to be easily understandable to the public. Abby has successfully learned to balance number crunching with writing in an accessible language. Asked about her secret in obtaining both excellent writing skills and an aptitude for statistics, Abby stated that she always strives for rigor and transparency; two of the most important pillars of good journalistic standards. In her email, Abby wrote that “the Center makes sure that our research supports healthy democracies by providing the public with easily-understood data. Before anything gets published, at least 10 people have reviewed the work thoroughly, both editorially and methodologically”.

Abby held her finished piece of article about the voting power of U.S. naturalized citizens
Abby held her finished piece of article about the voting power of U.S. naturalized citizens

During her freshman year of college in 2013, Abby took a number of quantitative social science research courses, which finally introduced her to the Pew Research Center, a fact tank company in Washington D.C. which publicly releases their microdata and surveys for free. After learning how to analyze basic data, Abby realized she has a calling in the field of data analysis. During the summer of her junior year in 2016, she applied and was accepted to intern for the Center’s Global Attitudes Project through the Optional Practicum Curriculum program (OPT). She said that the most memorable project she worked on during the internship period was a report that allowed her to access full microdata from United States Custom and Immigration Service (USCIS) and Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) through their Freedom of Information request. Asked about her thoughts on the report, Abby admitted that “it was a gargantuan project to analyze, but in the end it was very rewarding”. That project and that internship became Abby’s stepping point to get the full-time role she is in now, a research analyst for the Global Migration and Demographic team. She recently led, co-authored, and published an article on immigrant voters, which she believes to be the highlight of her career so far as it received a very positive reception from the public.

Abigail Budiman’s suggestion for avoiding hoaxes and fear-mongering during a pandemic:

Abby also has some advice to share with other Indonesians on how to avoid spreading rumors or falling for hoaxes, especially during the outbreak of Covid-19. She wants everyone to please stop immediately believing all the unverified threads that we get on our WhatsApp group chats – our group chats are rife with dangerous and harmful misinformation. Abby said that we must all do our own due diligence and conduct quick number checks every time we are presented with new information. This simply involves Googling that information, and verifying it through trusted sources, such as Center for Disease Control (CDC), National Institute of Health (NIH), and medical journals published by hospitals on official websites like the Mayo Clinic. It is also not a bad idea to rely or lean on an official news source, but we should know how to differentiate between a piece of political opinion written by a columnist and neutral, non-biased news written by a reporter. Last but not least, Abby reminds everyone not to fall for the “appeal to authority” logical fallacy. “Just because someone claims to have a doctorate in something does not mean that we should not still cross-check and verify their statements”, Abby warned.