Karen Zhang (She/Her)

Student, Columbia University
  • People
  • United States of America

I am a/an:

Undergraduate Leadership & Research Scholar


Columbia University

Laidlaw Cohort Year


Research Topic

Anthropology Education Urban Planning

I am from:

United States of America

I am open to participating in mentoring/buddy programmes



Rooms participated in:

Columbia University

Recent Comments

Jun 21, 2023
Replying to Kayla Pham

    Since starting my project, I have primarily encountered experimental data that contradicts my assumption. Initially, I set out to find polaritonic recycling in MoS2 (molybdenum disulfide). For more context, a polariton is essentially a particle that is half-light and half-matter. The light aspect of the "particle" enables it to move incredibly fast, while the particle aspect allows for extraction for modern technologies. However, after reviewing relevant data about MoS2 that might have indicated polaritonic recycling, it turns out that the electron transport found in the material is likely normal diffusion - which is not the purpose of the overall investigation. In addition to this, the material MoS2 was producing data of poor quality. Thereby, it was necessary to switch to a higher quality material - WSe2 - that was meticulously grown and cultivated in another lab at Columbia. However, many of the same problems that were occurring with MoS2 are also occurring with WSe2 - hindering the discovery of polaritonic recycling in a transition metal dichalcogenide (TMD) - known for their unique ability to self-hybridize (form polaritons without external cavities). Nonetheless, the investigation will persist but likely at a different angle to find polaritonic recycling. The most valuable resource through this process has been others. Whether it be people in my own lab or others in the department, perspective and expertise has been incredibly useful in progressing in my own investigation.

    Hey Kayla! Agreed with your statement that the most valuable resource has been the other people involved in the same research that we are. I work with a team of three other undergraduate students under my faculty professor mentor and it's been really helpful in having other students working on the same project that I am so that I can compare my fieldwork notes with them and hear about their findings that I may not have noticed. Additionally, it's fascinating to hear from others given the vastly different perspectives that each of us brings to the table and how we interpret student experiences with PBATs. 

    Jun 21, 2023

    The data that I am primarily collecting are observational descriptions from my field notes. Because of this, my research question has changed quite a bit over the weeks due to the limitations in my data-collecting method (ex. I’m unable to conduct my own interviews). Additionally, because my notes are based on my observations, I’m still working on ways and methods to qualify and quantify my conclusions, especially because so much of my data is qualitative. However, working with this data has also pushed me to narrow in on one specific topic in the broader research that I'm doing—in this case, I'm focusing specifically on history performance-based assessment tests (PBATs)—to really understand the different dimensions that history PBATs can take. 

    The library databases have been particularly useful for me. As I read literature on history pedagogy and project-based assessments, I found that Columbia's Teachers College is rich in the information I need for my background research/annotated bibliography, especially since they have a catalog on history education. Their catalogs and databases have been helpful in both narrowing and broadening my research.

    Jun 15, 2023
    Replying to Dongfang Linda Qu

    1. I hope to at least produce an annotated bibliography by the end of these months, a paper of some sorts by the end of summer if at all possible. I'd like to continue my project into the year and write up something more substantial by next summer, in hopes of being able to deliver what I've learned through research to more people. Quite frankly, I've learned a lot more about myself than my topic of research so far; in other words, this research experience has given me a taste of the research life and a chance at self-evaluation. Going forward, I'll be approaching research with more grounded resolution among other aspects of mind, and I'm grateful for the time that Laidlaw has given me to reflect.

    2. By investigating the astrological mantic arts in medieval Europe and Middle Period China, I examine how monarchs and emperors uses future divination to affirm their right to rule, framing my reading with postmodernist frameworks such as semiology. I think it's important to recognize the ambiguity of written materials of the past in genre – in the case of ancient China, a document could simultaneously carry attributes of "history" and "literature" and even "philosophy“. These documents are all narratives with intentions, products of close readings of the natural and political phenomenons of their times, the course of events carefully tailored in order to build a claim to power. We could never fully reconstruct the skies of Northern Hemisphere nights in 1400s, but we could piece together parts of the truth by cross-referencing records from different civilizations that observed the same nights and deduce what phenomenons each party has elevated or put down. This way, we can reconstruct parts of the original starscape that the ancients interpreted and interpret their interpretations with a modern interdisciplinary outlook, probing at their anxieties through the way they saw the stars. I hope that if anything, my research would remind you that "literature" and/or "literary text" doesn't have to limit itself to black prints lined, bounded, collected in white sheets, and that interdisciplinary studie is perhaps not a novel idea after all but a recent revival of a past tradition. 

    I find your research absolutely fascinating, Linda, especially how you're using postmodernist frameworks to examine the past (I didn't know what semiology was before but do now) and taking the information we currently have to piece together the past and original starscape. I can't wait to see your results! 

    Jun 14, 2023

    1. For my research, I am still currently conducting fieldwork, especially because ethnography is generally conducted over a long period of time. Because of this, my immediate expectations are to continue taking observational notes, talking to community members, and reading more articles about history pedagogy and PBATs. I am currently writing an annotated bibliography with the readings that I’ve been doing to supplement my understanding of PBATs and how social studies and history are taught in schools. This will provide more background and context that will supplement what I’ve been observing during my fieldwork research.

    2. Especially given the little amount of literature out there about PBATs and especially, the use of different kinds of assessments and educational equity for immigrant students, I hope that the contribution and research I conduct can add to this field of increasing equity in education for immigrant students. Specifically, I am interested in the way history PBATs affect immigrant students’ understanding of US history, as the students add a critical cultural significance to the classroom with the perspectives and experiences that they bring in. Additionally, given the current political climate and discourses over what should and shouldn’t be included in history education, I am also interested in the way history education has evolved throughout the years in the United States.

    Jun 08, 2023
    Replying to Kayla Pham

    Though I am working in a science lab that does not deal with any living subjects, there are still a plethora of ethical concerns in Materials Science - the main being ethical issues associated with sourcing certain materials. Many elements used in Material Sciences research (aluminum, copper, graphite, and much more) can be, and have been, sourced with child labor, low working standards, and unsafe conditions. Thus, it is incredibly important to understand where the materials I work with comes from. I am currently studying a material made in another lab at Columbia. It is additionally important to question the accessibility of the research I am conducting - whether it would be equitable or if it would disproportionately help one group of people. As I continue my investigation, I continue to look at my research through the intersection of Chemistry and Physics. Allowing my research to fit in multiple fields and not have rigid descriptors has been incredibly insightful to allow my research to take on multiple shapes and forms.

    I really appreciate that you illuminated the aspects less readily seen or "invisible" parts of the material that you work with. Sometimes, the conversation around ethics in science revolves heavily around honestly representing data that the discussion on the people behind providing the materials gets lost when they are just as important in contributing to our research. 

    Jun 08, 2023
    Replying to Rojeh Dayan

    1. One ethical issue is ensuring that there is proper representation of the community I am researching and avoiding stereotyping. One way I am responding to this ethical issue is by reflecting on my own assumptions and acknowledging their potential impact on the research process. Another ethical issue is ensuring I employ objective and balanced analysis since I am part of this community. To respond to this, I consider multiple viewpoints by seeking diverse sources of information, allowing me to present a balanced analysis and avoid bias. 

    2. Yes, I have considered alternative viewpoints, which enriches the research project by fostering a more holistic understanding of the complexities and nuances surrounding the Jewish Iranian-American community and their affiliations with other countries. It helps to challenge preconceived notions and uncover new insights I may not have considered. 

    Your first comment really resonates with me, especially with the part about considering our positionalities in our research, especially when we are researching a community that we are a part of or are really familiar with. It can be tricky to maintain an objective and balanced viewpoint when researching a community we're a part of since we might assume or omit certain findings because we feel that it's intuitive knowledge when it may reveal something deeper in our research that we end up missing. I definitely agree with seeking diverse sources of information to constantly reflect on what may be missing or overlooked in our research, especially as it comes from our viewpoints.

    Jun 08, 2023
    1. Especially because I am an outside observer coming into a community to conduct ethnographic fieldwork research, it’s important for me to practice reciprocity in my work. This means not just taking from a community for the benefit of my research but also giving back as well, whether in the form of helping the school with assessment grading or helping to mentor students with their projects. Additionally, because I am working with other people (students, teachers, and faculty), it’s critical for me to always have the community’s consent in observing them and maintain their privacy in my field notes and culminating project.
    1. I’ve looked at competing theories and gaps in my research on performance-based assessment tests (PBATs). It’s interesting to read about how PBATs became an alternative standard of testing compared to standardized testing and why certain groups are opposed to PBATs. Talking to teachers in the community about the benefits and flaws of PBATS also provides a more nuanced understanding of using this type of assessment as a measure of student knowledge. It's made me think about which types of assessments may be more or less effective in measuring knowledge and understanding depending on the subject as well (humanities versus STEM). 
    Jun 02, 2023
    Replying to Grace Kaste
    • 1. During my meetings with my graduate student, I've been able to hear from the other Laidlaw students in my group about the early stages of their research. Each of our projects relates to law/policy in some way, but also focuses on completely different subjects. I feel like all four of us are at a similar stage, establishing preliminary background about each of our subjects. Because of this, hearing about their research process for grasping this background this week has helped me so much -- for example, they've reminded me to back up and ask broader questions when I get stumped, and inspired me to look at new resources when I hit a dead end. The diversity of topics is helping me to internalize the research process in general, instead of getting sucked into rabbit holes within my small topic.
    • 2. Our discussion with Professor Klitzman about research ethics has come to mind a lot this week. As he led us through demonstrations of ethical questions, he asked us whether a party involved should be required to disclose their intent to collect data or what a party’s responsibility to the community is as they perform and publish research. It made me realize the power of research and information, especially because it is almost impossible to always get the full picture. As I’ve started reading academic literature about the effectiveness of a type of environmental law, I’ve realized that the data presented is often manipulated, to the point that there are multiple papers that use the same data set to make completely contradictory claims about the effectiveness of this law. Environmental policy is a field where there is so much dark money on the side of fossil fuels, and it’s also a field where so much is at stake in terms of our planet’s future. Professor Klitzman’s lesson has stuck with me that there are often ulterior motives involved in research, and has caused me to be aware of the interests of the people whose research I read.

    Your response to the second question really resonates with me. It was also interesting to see the amount of grey area when it came to research ethics as a lot of us were often unsure as to what the "right"/"wrong" answer was in response to Professor Klitzman's hypothetical scenarios, which goes to show how blurred some boundaries are and how we have to be clear in our intentions to the other parties involved in our research. It's also fascinating but scary to hear the way environmental law research gets manipulated with the same data set that produces contradictory results.