Student presents in front of class with graph titled "high volatility in valence up to 1960"

Katherine Vaughan ‘24 presents her ECON Lab research on April 29.

5.17.2022
By Roanoke College News

Students present ECON Lab research

Katherine Vaughan ‘24 was listening to a playlist of upbeat music from 2008 and 2009 when a thought came to her. Despite the Great Recession going on at that time, this music was cheery and optimistic. 

Then it got her thinking. How does music reflect — or not reflect — the economic conditions in which the music was created? This possible research topic didn’t fit within the confines of any of Vaughan’s classes, but fortunately for her, the Roanoke College economics department has the ECON Lab program, which allows students to pursue research projects outside of class. 

Six students presented their research at an in-person event on campus April 29. This is the first time in ECON Lab’s two-year existence where the event was fully in-person instead of being held online or hybrid online and in-person. Dr. Alice Kassens, the John S. Shannon Professor of Economics at Roanoke College, coordinates the program and spoke to the audience of students, faculty, staff and family members. 

“It’s a low-stakes research environment,” Kassens said to the group. “There’s no grade, there’s no paper, I just want to encourage students to find joy in exploration.” 

Vaughan’s research, which delved into music and the business cycle, was one of the presenters. Though she’s still midway through her research, she discovered fascinating trends in how the availability of music — such as having to buy albums versus paying a subscription for a streaming service — affects the variety of music people listen to. If a person has to pay for specific songs or albums, they will take fewer risks and keep their musical taste generally the same. But if they’re paying for a streaming service, there’s no risk to trying to listen to something new, she found. 

“It's been really fun to get to do research on my own, because I've picked things that I enjoy learning about. And that makes me really enthusiastic about learning and investigating more about these topics. Dr. Kassens is always there to help, which is really nice. I'm in her office a lot to get advice.”

Katherine Vaughan '24

Other studies and presenters included

  • Which NBA Era Was Better? - Jake Beardsley ‘22
  • The Beveridge Curve - Lilly Blair ‘22
  • Hunting and Fishing License Sales: Roanoke County - Naomi Painter ‘22
  • Are COVID Vaccine Developers Still a Good Deal? - Ethan Stevenson ‘24
  • JEOPARDY! - Quinn Keatley ‘22

Vaughan said ECON Lab was exactly what she was envisioning, as it allowed her to pursue what she was interested in with a little support if she needed any.

“It's been really fun to get to do research on my own, because I've picked things that I enjoy learning about,” Vaughan said. “And that makes me really enthusiastic about learning and investigating more about these topics. Dr. Kassens is always there to help, which is really nice. I'm in her office a lot to get advice.”

ECON Lab has been going for two academic years now. Students who are interested in getting involved can reach out via this form or email rceconlab@gmail.com.