Dipal PatelCollat finance student Dipal PatelCollat finance student Dipal Patel has been accepted to the 2021 National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) annual conference for her research on the correlation between female and minority representation and top-level executive positions in American business firms.

Patel, a business honors student, researched a topic and presented her findings at the UAB Undergraduate Research Expo as part of the business honors curriculum. After presenting at the Fall 2020 Expo, Patel revised her data and submitted an abstract to the 2021 NCUR conference.

It was accepted.

“I was thrilled,” Patel says. “I have a lot of friends in the healthcare and science side of UAB, and I always thought of them as the researchers, not me. I’ve learned you don’t have to be in the science field to do research and create hypotheses.”

For nearly two years, Patel conducted research, gathering data on the demographics of Fortune 500 companies - from company revenue to number of employees.

“We were told to pick a topic that excites us,” recalls Patel. “I chose to research if women and minorities were underrepresented in the executive positions in business.”

Based on her findings, she concluded that only 25% of C-Suite positions – chief financial officers, chief executive officers, chief marketing officers, etc. – were held by women and only 5% were held by people of color.

“I began my research thinking that positions of power weren’t held by women and minorities. And I found out that was, in fact, the case,” she says.

But it isn't all bad news, she notes. While pouring over the data, she noticed a trend showing business sector C-suites are growing more diverse and inclusive.

“It’s definitely getting better,” she says. “It makes me more hopeful that one day it could be me in one of those positions.”

Patel’s first stab at the research wasn’t what landed her the NCUR spot. Her work presented at the Fall 2020 UAB Undergraduate Research Expo didn’t earn recognition from expo judges.

Patel was devastated but used the experience to better organize her research. She requested help from her faculty mentor, Collat finance professor Stephanie Yates, Ph.D., to identify and create better strategies for data collection.

“I knew Dr. Yates was an accomplished researcher in finance, and she could lead me in the right direction,” Patel says.

Patel struggled at first, but quickly learned how to navigate new financial databases and find answers with Yates’s help.

With new confidence in her data, Patel submitted her research to the 2021 virtual NCUR annual conference and was accepted.

The NCUR conference hosts 3,500 to 4,000 undergraduate students from around the world, each presenting research through performance or visual art, posters or oral presentations. Faculty mentors are encouraged to attend and present their own research.

Patel plans to revise her data even further before presenting at the conference in April. She is consulting with Yates on data methods, reviewing new databases and altering sample sizes for more conclusive results.

Patel recommends that business students who are interested in conducting research pick a topic that interests them and run with it.

“Don’t be afraid,” she says. “If you are interested in a specific topic, and there's a gap in the literature, that's the topic for you.”

And if a student gets stuck, she says, the Collat School of Business has an arsenal of exemplary research faculty willing to mentor students every step of the way.

The 2021 NCUR@Home conference will be held April 12-14, 2021. Students interested in submitting an abstract can learn more at cur.org/what/events/students.