Talia Belz: My Summer at the AgeLab
My name is Talia Belz and I’m a junior at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, where I major in Economics. I have been lucky enough to intern at the MIT AgeLab for the past two summers, as well as part-time during the school year. One of my favorite aspects about the AgeLab is the sheer number of diverse and exciting topics we tackle through our research. During my short tenure, I have participated in research for 8 (!) different projects. While the diversity of topics is one of my favorite aspects about the AgeLab, my most favorite aspect actually lies in the two commonalities I have found within all of my projects—how tangible their impact is and how they inspire self-reflection.
I want to explain how both my first and most recent AgeLab projects—which could not be more different—are creating tangible impacts and causing me to self-reflect about their role in my own life.
The first project I ever worked on at the lab was focused on the multigenerational workforce. Today, there are five generations simultaneously collaborating in the office. In this project, I was tasked with understanding the distinct perceptions and opinions of workers belonging to Generation X and Generation Z when it comes to their working lives. In asking questions such as, “what does ‘success’ mean to these different generations?”, “how do the definitions of ‘career’ and ‘job’ differ for these generations?”, “what do these generations value the most in their workplace?”, I could easily see how this research would be especially beneficial to companies from the moment I started the project. For example, if companies had access to the findings from this research, such as what Generation Z workers reported valuing the most in their workplace(s), Human Resources (HR) departments could formulate better strategies and offerings for recruiting potential talent.
From this very first project, I knew my contributions to research like this had the power to create real-world impact. What is more motivating than that!? In working on this project, from compiling a literature review to analyzing focus group data, I began to consider what my own view of success is, how I define a career versus a job, and what I value most in the workplace. I even found myself comparing my own answers to what we found among my fellow Gen Z participants. I noticed many similarities, prompting me to think more about the role generational influences play in our working lives.
My current AgeLab project from this summer seeks to understand the toll caregiving for a parent or parent-in-law takes on the ability of women to work. In particular, businesses have come a long way in realizing the importance of acknowledging the impact of parenthood on workers— from increasing maternity leave time and implementing paternity leave to providing child care services. Yet, there remains a gap in similar accommodations for family carers and there is still so much opportunity in research on caregiving to understand why this gap persists.
More research on how family caregiving of elderly parents affects workers, especially women, could pave the way for new value propositions among companies, prompting the development of policies and initiatives that could fundamentally change the trajectory of women’s careers. On a personal level, I’ve witnessed the toll caring for my grandmother has taken on my mother’s professional opportunities. Before working on this project, I had not previously considered how her situation could be improved by her employer(s). I know that I will likely be in her position one day, and I hope that projects like this will have improved workplace accommodations in my lifetime.
Thank you AgeLab for always broadening my perspective!
Talia Belz is an alumna of Buckingham Browne & Nichols School in Cambridge, MA and a current student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. She began her internship with the MIT AgeLab in the summer of 2020 and has contributed to AgeLab research on the multigenerational workforce, caregiving and multicultural aging.