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In the fast moving hard drive industry, what compels a manufacturer to pull a model from the market? Is it competition for market share from other companies or is it competition from within the organization itself? This summer, Thuy Lan Nguyen ’07 (Hanoi, Vietnam) is trying to determine an answer.

A double major in mathematics and economics & business, Nguyen is working with Chris Ruebeck, assistant professor of economics and business, to examine the hard drive industry from 1988 to 1996. Their goal is to discover the forces that affect a company’s decision to remove its products from the market.

Nguyen and Ruebeck are collaborating through Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, in which students conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend. The program has helped to make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate each year share their work through articles in academic journals and/or conference presentations.

An active scholar in his field, Ruebeck has presented to the European Association for Research in Industrial Economics, the North American Winter Meeting of the Econometric Society, and the Stony Brook Summer Festival on Game Theory. He has published articles in several academic journals. He is a past recipient of the Student Government Superior Teaching Award.

The EXCEL research is helping Nguyen gain a greater understanding of programming. For instance, she wrote a “do file” so the program can run in all the years the data cover.

“Then, I use Stata – a program used in econometrics [the application of statistical methods to the study of economic data and problems] – to process the data,” Nguyen explains. “The data are from a Lotus Work file, so we had to put it into a database in Stata. And then, since many of the variables are not in numerical form and have a lot of missing data or messy forms, I have to clean up the data.”

This process has created obstacles. According to Ruebeck, the challenges in Nguyen’s assignment arise from the need to ensure everything is represented quantitatively and data are matched up across the years.

“We always have to remember the data processing adage, ‘Garbage in, garbage out,’” Ruebeck notes. “In other words, this exercise is part of making sure that there is as little error and ‘noise’ in the data – or garbage in – as possible so that we don’t just get ‘garbage out’ for our results.”

Nguyen and Ruebeck’s work delves deeper than any previous research on the topic, including Ruebeck’s own scholarly research.

“Most economic theories and data studies try to simplify things by assuming that each product is made by a different manufacturer, so we are adding to the literature on ‘multi-product’ firms,” he explains. “My previous work found that the competitive force is very weak and the cannibalistic force is important, but that work only covered the more popular, more successful drives.”

Ruebeck’s challenging and caring mentorship has helped Nguyen strive for success.

“It is good for me to learn from a smart, demanding professor like him,” Nguyen says. “He wants to know that I am learning. He is very clear on what he wants and what he expects. I have to work hard and learn more in order to meet his expectations.”

Ruebeck admires Nguyen’s ability to navigate the EXCEL work’s steep learning curve.

“Lan is taking full advantage of learning programming, and she is learning the issues that are important in analyzing data,” Ruebeck observes. “She is attentive to details, very motivated, interested in the topic, and she thinks of good ideas on her own.”

Nguyen has collaborated with other Lafayette faculty in previous EXCEL research. She studied corporate mergers and acquisitions with Donald Chambers, Walter E. Hanson Professor of Economics and Business, and explored student attitudes toward learning approaches with Sheila Handy, assistant professor of economics and business. Nguyen believes all her research experiences have laid a foundation for her eventual career.

“For now, I am thinking of applying to a Ph.D. program in economics, and this research surely is helping me prepare well for it,” she says. “At Lafayette, everyone works hard and everyone wants to learn more. Professors are encouraging and give students chances to work with them. The classes are challenging, and that gives students a good foundation and more incentives to pursue something outside the classroom, such as a research project.”

Nguyen is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, America’s oldest and most respected honors organization; Pi Mu Epsilon, mathematics honor society; and Omicron Delta Epsilon, economics honor society. She is president of Lafayette’s new Economics Club and is a member of the Japanese Floor, International Students Association, and Asian Culture Association. She also is a lab assistant in the mathematics department.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Forty students were accepted to present their research at this year’s conference.

Categorized in: Academic News