Sun Jeon: Social Statistician

Sun Jeon - Utah State University

Sun Jeon is a graduate student in the sociology department. She was born and raised in a big city in South Korea. She received her undergraduate degree in engineering and sociology from Sogang University in Seoul. One of her professors was an alumni of Utah State and suggested the USU sociology department as the next big step in her career. She took the opportunity and is now getting ready to graduate with her Ph.D. in social statistics.

The Move to Utah

“Almost every night I packed to go back to South Korea,” Sun said when asked what the hardest thing about coming to the U.S. for school was. Logan was the first city in the U.S. that Sun experienced and the first time living as a minority. Not many of the people around her were dealing with the same challenges. She felt the pressure of a language barrier, difficult coursework, and a new environment. This led her to create a blog and she began describing her experiences nearly every day.

“It was just like you vomit your emotion at the end of the day on the blog and it just stacked up.” Writing the blog helped her gain some relief from the everyday pressures of the new situation. After some time, people began to read. Many of those people were in similar situations- international students in the U.S. and other countries- and they reached out to her. One of USU’s current professors saw the blog when deciding to come to Utah. Sun struck him as a hardworking student and decided to come to USU because he wanted to work with students like her.

“Even though I felt like no one physically around me had a similar situation as the one I was facing, these people [found through the blog] are going through the similar things. We shared the stories of our failures, mistakes, everything and then we became very close and some of the people are very close to me now. They are as close as my offline friends. It’s pretty interesting. If I didn’t have any hardship or problems, I don’t think I would have done my blogging. By sharing my hard stories, I met a lot of people and I listened to those people, they listened to me and then we just made this community. Its been 7 years. I’m graduating and everybody is kind of celebrating together.”

Discovering Logan’s Best Characteristics

Within her seven years at Utah State, Sun has come to love Logan even though she experienced some challenges. She has always loved the mountains, but did not have easy access when living in a big city. In South Korea, there is always something going on and an exciting night life. Sun loves that Logan is more peaceful and full of opportunities to be close to nature. Since moving here, she has become a backpacker, snowboarder, and hiker.

Sun’s Research

Sun has also been able to follow her academic passions. She currently researches the possible factors of sickness in large populations through statistics. The main issues she examines are obesity, suicide, and mental illness. She studies methodologies to find the different approaches to answer the big questions, like the best ways to provide aid to sick people. Sun began studying this in South Korea, where the suicide mortality rate is one of the highest in the world. “When those suicide mortality rates are that high, it’s your friend and your friend’s friend and your parent’s friend. It happens very close.” One of her professors suggested that she take a statistical approach in order to find factors in the population that could contribute to high suicide rates.

“When I find out which kind of social determinates, when I find out critical factors behind the scene which affects the probability that you become poor health relatively, it’s very cool because it can directly affect policy. It can really help those people.”

For Sun, the research is about connecting on a human level. The statistics are not just numbers, but people whose lives she can influence. She has been able to share this passion by teaching sociology undergraduates, which helps her think about the skills and techniques that are required for sociology research as she teaches them about the importance of statistics in research.

Moving Forward

Utah State has given Sun many opportunities to learn and grow.

“Before I came to Utah State, I was one of those young kids who was like ‘what am I supposed to do? What am I going to do with my life?’ When I graduated with my undergrad, I was feeling like I was a little bit grey. My degree was interdisciplinary but honestly sometimes I felt grey. I was neither of them. But since I came to USU, the education, the coursework that I took, research project I worked on, my mentors advising and all of this program and experiences at USU and the community I experienced here kind of gave me a lot of colors and it’s clearer. I feel like I know about myself a little bit better and it’s not grey anymore but it’s a good color and a good start. I’m graduating this semester and you know some people say ‘You are done! Congrats!’ but I feel like it’s a good start and I’m really excited about where this experience at Utah State will take me in the future and the new things I will see because of this experience. I’m really glad I decided to graduated from Utah State. It’s been 7 years! Its been really long. But I’m glad I made that choice and I didn’t give up.”

After graduation, Sun is going to work as a biostatistician in the health center of University of California- Davis. One day she hopes to supervise a health research project and health data investigation so that other people can use the data. She wants to help people with poor health, but also help sociology scientists do better research.

Sun Jeon will be speaking about her research at the Ignite USU event during Research Week. She will emphasize the importance of remembering the humanity of people in demographical data sets. The event will be held in the Merrill-Cazier Library’s South Atrium on Friday, April 14 from 12-1 p.m. This event will showcase the research of eight USU student researchers as they present the stories and experiences that have come through research. Ignite will be followed by a reception that features live music, refreshments, and the opportunity to talk with the presenters.