“Research is Research”: Ben Porter on utilizing archival data across fields

Published by Emile Creel on

By Bethany Deuel

Headshot of Ben Porter

The application of research and not necessarily its topic has led Ben Porter to several different roles including his latest as an assistant research professor at the SSRC. In August of 2019, Porter, who holds a Ph.D. from the University of Houston in social psychology and a minor in data analysis, joined the center to continue his work with military health, archival data analysis, and applied statistics.

Prior to his move to Starkville, Porter worked for seven years on the “Millennium Cohort Study” in San Diego, California. This project will run for 68 years from 2001 to 2069 to gain a better understanding of health concerns in military personnel and veterans. During his time there, he made a great impact by modifying the multidimensional scale of perceived social support on the survey, ultimately saving survey participants three months of time. He said this applied benefit is a major goal with his research.

“So much of what I do is gathering information that has implications down the line as one piece of the bigger wall, but as long as it’s being used, I’m happy,” Porter said. “Goals for my future research would be things that are used— things that inform people’s lives and make them better.”

Porter’s newest upcoming project also relates to military health. With the help of an undergraduate student, he will scan Twitter in search of an online cohort of Gulf War Veterans to help him understand emerging health symptoms from those who served. He said by using Twitter to find conversations between veterans, significant time could be saved in understanding their developing health issues.

Every day in the office looks different as he works on several other projects across the SSRC, including collaborating with the Mississippi Thrive! project to increase childhood health screenings and developing a survey on veteran belongingness on college campuses. Porter understands how to focus on the basic elements of research while applying his skills as a statistician in many fields.

“My personal experience has been that research is research. I was able to apply a lot of what I learned working with relationships to military health. What you’re looking at changes, but the way you do it stays the same,” Porter said.

He also enjoys looking through archival data to identify data sets that can be used to answer questions in his many projects.

“I like archival data because it’s easy to use. We can answer questions with data that’s already there, so why aren’t we doing this? I think there are a lot of implications for participants because everyone took all the time to provide this information, so why would I turn around and ask it to somebody again to answer the same question?” Porter said.

Nearly two years after starting at the SSRC, Porter said he hopes he has improved his grant-writing skills as well as his cross-disciplinary collaboration skills.

“When I was in grad school, everyone that I dealt with was a social psychologist. I’d never worked with computer scientists or communications professionals before,” Porter said. “It’s cool to see all these fields and groups come together. I’ve learned a lot about what other people do.”

Porter said in many ways, namely the lack of traffic, Starkville is the perfect place for him to live. He looks forward to staying here with his wife and growing his research in the years to come.