By Bethany Deuel

Few undergraduate students at Mississippi State University (MSU) fill their workdays with analyzing research data, gathering literature for grant applications, applying for graduate school and working out rigorously. Shelby Gilbreath does all this and more with a smile and a passion to make MSU a better place.

While the Memphis native originally intended to follow her family’s tradition of going to the University of Memphis, Gilbreath visited MSU her junior year of high school and knew it was where she was meant to be to make a lasting impact. Now, a senior criminology major, Gilbreath works in the SSRC’s Data Science for the Social Sciences Laboratory (DS3) as a research assistant under co-director Megan Stubbs-Richardson. The lab, founded in 2020, works to apply data science techniques from sources like social media to social science research.

Gilbreath’s position responsibilities involve looking for themes in research data gathered through coding programs for different projects and working with Stubbs-Richardson, an assistant research professor, to apply for grants. Most recently, Gilbreath is working on projects related to COVID-19 to look for common attitudes and circulating misinformation related to the virus and the new vaccine.

One of Gilbreath’s most notable achievements is the journal article she co-authored last year alongside Stubbs-Richardson, Doug Girault and Audrey Reid. Currently in the editing process, “It’s a Global #MeToo” is a study of #MeToo discussions in China, Sweden & the U.S. Gilbreath and her colleagues looked on social media and dark web forums in these three countries for responses from people in power concerning different cases of sexual assault.

“When I stepped on this campus, I knew I wanted to make something impactful that people would remember, and that was my milestone. I realized that my name was going on that journal article that could be potentially be used in research or literature review,” Gilbreath said. “It was a milestone that I was really excited to hit, it just took me a second to step back and realize that I’d accomplished my goal.”

Gilbreath also emphasized her thankfulness to be part of a project centered around her research interests of sexual violence against women, feminist theory and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“It’s a powerful movement to be part of, and I’m honored to be able to research that,” she said.

In addition to these opportunities, Gilbreath said her position at DS3 had led to personal development as she learns to be more openminded and professional. Above all, however, she is thankful for the genuine friendships she has formed across differing ages and experience levels.

“Working at DS3 and being surrounded by these people has allowed me to navigate the waters of research, academia and business life so much better… I really don’t think I would be prepared to work in a job if I didn’t have these experiences,” Gilbreath said.

The growth she has experienced is why she so strongly encourages other undergraduate students to pursue positions in research.

“If you see an opportunity for undergrad research, take it. This is something that I’m so thankful that I did,” Gilbreath said. “It has given me so much experience to take with me into the workforce, into my personal life and into grad school.”

Looking to the future, Gilbreath sees many possibilities for where she will be post-graduation. Whether she continues her education in law school or seeks a Ph.D. in counseling, Gilbreath wants to change policy surrounding women’s rights to be part of the ever-changing fight for women’s equality.

Impacting women’s policy in a unique way
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