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Independent Research: A Beginners Guide Written by a Beginner

Until freshman year of college, I was skeptical of so-called “eureka moments”. It seemed like a convenient way for freakish geniuses like Archimedes and Newton to avoid social ostracism by showing they did normal things: bathe, sleep, etc. That skepticism collapsed though, after my own eureka experience. While maybe not comparable to radically altering the scope of physics, my revelatory moment importantly change how I understood the opportunities of college.
Like all great events in human history, the setting was a disheveled dorm room. I was at my desk, dutifully completing an International Affairs reading. Then, I snapped. The reading I decided with conclusive bitterness, was irreparably “stupid”. By that I didn’t mean it was pointless, tedious, or confusing like I normally did. This time, it was flat out dumb. The premises of the argument were opaque, its conclusions unfounded and the evidence irrelevant. I was unaccustomed to being so censorious. It wasn’t my place to judge right? And then it hit me. It was my place to judge. The insights came in an avalanche. It wasn’t only my place to judge the stuff I read. It was my opportunity, no it was my responsibility, to create stuff worth reading to spare future college students from reading stupid articles.
With this sequence of impeccable logic, my ambition to produce scholarly research of my own was born. Given that professors critiqued my early essays as “argumentatively convoluted and rhetorically bulbous” (comments like those stick with you), the start was less than promising. But I persevered, and painfully I improved. Developing an ardor for philosophy, I pored over every book I found, detained professors long after class in discussion, and began to form my own ideas.
These ideas finally came to fruition in a flurry of research papers I wrote first semester sophomore year. One of my professors, normally as cheerful as the Undertaker, praised the argument in one such paper as “delightfully perspicacious” (I looked up that word) and encouraged me to submit it a philosophy conference. So I did. It turns out nerd conventions are awesome, and I’ve been attending them and churning out research papers ever since. The opportunities that pursuing independent research have opened for me are manifold. I’ve traveled to Portland, New Orleans and Ottawa to present papers, completed research internships at the Library of Congress and American Enterprise Institute, and, to some modest extent, can actually call myself an expert in the little corner of academia I work in.
So research has been enormously important and beneficial for me. As a bright and ambitious UHPeer, it easily could be for you too. That’s why I’m now a member of the Elliott School’s Student Research Forum (SRF). We help students in the hardest part of becoming a social science researcher: getting started. Then we help with the next hardest part: keeping it going. The SRF provides informal and accessible introductory workshops on the critical skills of social science research—discourse analysis, fieldwork, conducting interviews, statistical analysis. We also provide a venue for the exchange of ideas between students, letting them contribute to one another’s research goals and methods through mutual evaluation. And at the end of the process, we provide a platform for students to publicize what they’ve accomplished; organizing research conferences that draw together student presenters with audiences of scholars, professionals and peers (and snacks!).
Too many students are discouraged from pursuing their projects because they can’t locate the structure and resources needed to cultivate them. Independent research’s situation is no different. I doubt I’m the only undergrad to shout “this is stupid” in exasperation over a reading, confident I could produce something better. Unfortunately, I doubt that it’s more than a select few students who were lucky enough to receive the support and opportunities that propelled me down the path to research success. The SRF exists to make this degree of support and opportunity readily available to all GW students. All you need to do is come to us with passion, and carry on with persistence, to realize your research goals,
Look for SRF updates in further Newsflashes!


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