Student Spotlight – Ragini Srinivasan

Meet UCLA undergraduate researcher Ragini Srinivasan!

Ragini Srinivasan majors in Mathematics/Economics and Political Science and is in our Undergraduate Research Fellows Program (URFP)! The title of her project is “Economic and Political Factors Behind Perceptions and Levels of Adoption of Decentralized Currencies Across Countries.”

Her focus is to provide an unbiased perspective on the changing financial systems of our world and on what is best for economically vulnerable countries. Her best piece of advice is to put yourself out there!

How did you first get interested in your research project?

As a North and South campus double major, I have always been passionate about the intersection between STEM and the social sciences. Back in September, I happened to be shown an article about El Salvador establishing Bitcoin as legal tender, and it immediately intrigued me; there were great disputes over the political event, as there have been over Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies at large. I started thinking about why the government may have taken this action and why this elicited such a strong response among the population, especially given that the nation has been marked by great economic instability in recent decades. From here, I decided to pursue a research project analyzing the various economic and political characteristics of different countries that may contribute to their perceptions of decentralized currencies; it felt like the perfect opportunity to analyze a modern-day phenomenon that has generated so much controversy from both quantitative and qualitative viewpoints!

What has been the most exciting aspect of your research so far?

Over the last few months, the simple process of learning and expanding my knowledge has been incredibly exciting and gratifying. As I delve deeper into both technical topics like blockchain technologies and social topics like anti-Bitcoin protests, I find myself gaining a deeper, not just a surface-level, understanding of these issues. In addition, as part of the URFP, I have had the opportunity to meet other extremely talented, passionate, and kind student researchers. The entire community is so supportive and welcoming, and that has truly been exciting for me.

What has surprised you about your research or the research process?

I’m still in the midst of the research process, but so far the importance of slow, steady preparation has greatly surprised me. Initially, I was tempted to dive right into reading complex literature, analyzing data, and working on all the tangible aspects of research, but I soon found myself lacking a basic understanding of my topic. My faculty mentor helped me realize how crucial it is to start with the fundamentals and take my time to fully understand them, and that has made a huge difference.

What is one piece of advice you have for other UCLA students thinking about doing research?

Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there! I first got into research solely by cold emailing dozens of professors, and that’s in fact how I met my URFP faculty mentor. It was definitely daunting to go out of my comfort zone, as well as disappointing to receive very few responses; but all you need is one response, so the more you branch out, the more likely you are to get that one. Whether or not you have any formal experience, as long as you create new opportunities for yourself and show your passion for learning, it’ll work out. 🙂

What effect do you hope your research has in your field, at UCLA, in your community, or in the world?

I hope my research will provide an unbiased perspective on the changing financial systems of our world and on what is best for economically vulnerable countries. It’s easy to say that governments (like that of El Salvador) always do what is best for their constituents or that they never do. However, in reality, these issues are not as black and white as they seem, and I hope to reveal the gray areas in between. Additionally, in a broader sense, I hope my research encourages people to look at issues from all different angles. We tend to latch onto a strong viewpoint on a controversial topic without knowing the specifics, but it’s so important to learn about these issues in depth before we formulate our opinions.