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UDR Participant: Bethelehem Engeda

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As part of the Stanford MS&E: Stories & Voices podcast, we chat with Bethelehem Engeda, a participant in the MS&E Undergraduate Diversity in Research program.

Bethelehem shares how, growing up in the Bay Area, technology and business were always at the front of her mind. Now, Bethelehem is a junior majoring in Symbolic Systems with a concentration in computational social science. She also plans to pursue an MS&E coterminal master’s degree with a concentration in technology and engineering management. During the UDR program, Bethelehem worked with MS&E PhD student Carrington Motley on a research project called “Turning Failure Into Fuel” to study factors and traits that enable serial entrepreneurs to improve performance on subsequent ventures after a failed venture.

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Can you tell me about your background?

I'm Bethelehem Engeda; I'm from the East Bay area, so not too far away from Stanford. Living in the Bay Area and being close to Silicon Valley meant that technology and business were always at the forefront of my mind. I did some programs with Google and Facebook in high school that introduced me to computer science and virtual reality, and I did some business clubs in high school as well, like DECA, that helped develop my leadership skills.

Coming into Stanford, I knew that I wanted to pursue something related to computer science, MS&E, or symbolic systems. Now, I am a junior studying symbolic systems with a concentration in computational social science. I'll also be doing the MS&E coterminal master’s degree with a concentration in technology and engineering management.

How did you become interested in pursuing research?

I actually didn’t know much about research coming into Stanford, especially when it came to topics like entrepreneurship. However, I thought it would be a great experience to really dive deep into an interesting topic and learn from PhD students and faculty during the process. I knew I was interested in studying a topic regarding business, technology, or even combining both. I also wanted to gain a different viewpoint by working on my critical thinking and data analysis skills through research, rather than just reading studies for classes. That curiosity and interest led me to be a part of the inaugural class of the MS&E Undergraduate Diversity in Research program.

What was your research topic, and how did you choose it?

I joined Professor Chuck Eesley’s research group. We worked on a project, headed by MS&E PhD student Carrington Motley, called “Turning failure into fuel: lessons from serial entrepreneurship.” We researched  what traits and factors enabled serial entrepreneurs to improve performance on their subsequent ventures after a failed venture.

I chose to work on this topic because I’ve always been interested in the topic of entrepreneurship and figuring out what factors lead to success. This research topic allowed me to use my own knowledge about entrepreneurship and failure and come up with conclusions based on findings through survey data that we gathered from entrepreneurs.

How would you describe your experience in the MS&E Undergraduate Diversity in Research program?

It was an amazing program. I had a great experience, not only because I loved the topic that I was researching, but also because of the amazing support system that the program provided. There were several mentorship sessions and information sessions about research and career possibilities, as well as feedback sessions so those in charge of the UDR program could support their student researchers as much as possible. 

Having these amazing resources and being in a program that truly cared about my prosperity and success meant a lot to me and was a big part of why I loved my first experience with research. It was also a great experience to meet with the cohort of student researchers and learn from everyone. We had a great community, even though we were working on Zoom at the time due to COVID-19, so it was a great experience overall.

Do you have a favorite memory from the UDR program?

I really loved our cohort meetings. The  student researchers would get together on a Zoom call, split into breakout rooms to do icebreakers and learn about how each other's research was going, and give advice to one another about things that we were struggling with. It always ended up being a great time where everybody was laughing, getting to know each other, and giving advice on anything that another person was struggling with. I got a lot of great advice and perspective from those meetings that I brought to my own research with Carrington.

It also was really rewarding when we got to do our final presentations at the end of the program. I got to see everybody that I had gotten close to throughout the quarter, whether it was other student researchers or faculty, and it was comforting knowing they had supported me through the process when I was finally giving my conclusion and final statement.

How was your experience working with your mentor?

I got to meet a lot of amazing faculty members like Prof. Eesley during this program. They were all welcoming and helpful and gave me advice on the many questions I had, whether about the MS&E coterminal master’s degree, future career paths, or coursework. Faculty support and encouragement was really helpful and also helped me pursue other opportunities in the MS&E department, like getting a job as a department assistant.

In terms of how they helped my research and findings, it was always great to reflect and work through my critical thinking and conclusions that I came up with faculty. Hearing their feedback helped me improve my final presentation and gain new perspectives on ideas that I had. Carrington was also amazing and helped bring perspective, because he started the project. We met weekly to go over ideas and work on data analysis together.

Do you think you'll pursue a career in research in the future?

I’m still thinking about it. But at this current moment, I don't see myself pursuing a research career after my MS&E coterm degree, because I hope to gain experience in industry for a few years.  But if, after working in industry for a few years, I don't feel fulfilled in my career, I would completely be open to going back to school to pursue a PhD and then pursuing a research career, because I had such a positive experience with research through this program.

Also, my plans could still change. Maybe during my coterm or even my senior year, I'll do more research and end up changing my career path. I'm always open to wherever my path leads me.

What advice do you have for students who are thinking about pursuing research in the future?

I would just say go for it. At least try it out and see if it sparks your interest. Research is not only great if you already know the field that you want to go into, but it can also be great for growing a skill set, growing a strong network, and learning more about yourself and your interests. I've definitely seen that within myself. There are so many opportunities to do research at Stanford, and you're bound to find some type of existing research that you’re interested in. Even if there is a topic you're interested in that doesn't exist yet, I completely believe that there will be a faculty member out there who would want to support you and help you lead a project.

I would advise everybody to take advantage of pursuing research, especially with programs like the UDR program, because of how much mentorship and support it provides for people who have not done research at all like me. For example, data analysis is so important—you have to do it when you're doing research—and critical thinking. There are a lot of other skills that research brings about that will be helpful, regardless of whether you decide to pursue a research career.

To reiterate, I think everybody should pursue a research opportunity on campus if they're able to. At worst, maybe even just go for mentorship or reach out to one of the professors in the MS&E department. They are all amazing, and they will be willing to help you. I've had such a great experience, and I hope that other students will be able to have that, too. 

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