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#HonorsProblems: Reflections from a Humble Research Assistant

The following blog post was written by Peer Advisor Lucy, a sophomore studying international affairs.

Besides “interdisciplinary curricula” and “holistic applicants”, identifying as a “research institution” seemed to be the hottest trend in university marketing when I was touring colleges.  You better believe it – some bright-eyed admissions rep would tell the gaggle of students and parents that had just spent probably a few too many hours in the car together – our students, here at [insert name] University, can do original research with faculty as undergraduates.

Like many things schools tell prospective students on tours (“the freshmen dorms are really nice”; “you’ll never get tired of the dining options”; etc.) I assumed that these alleged research opportunities should be taken with a grain of salt. Ok, so undergraduates can do research with faculty – how many students actually do research and what percentage of these students do research outside of the hard sciences? Knowing that I would be pursuing a major in the social sciences, I was fairly apprehensive about the actual amount of opportunities that would present themselves.

Of course this was because I had a completely incorrect understanding of what working with university faculty actually meant. Clearly, I would probably do more damage than good in a lab setting, but it was ridiculous to think that I could only perform original research from behind an Erlenmeyer flask.

Last Spring, I applied on a whim for a research assistant position that had been posted on the honors blog to work with a Professor Harris Mylonas in the Political Science department.  Because I was only in my second semester ever at GW, I was mostly expecting a “thanks but no thanks” at best given the fact that I did not have 15 internships immortalized on my resume. However, I was pleasantly proven wrong, and Professor Mylonas invited me to assist him with his research. Professor Mylonas’s work centers largely on diasporas, nation-building, and Southeastern Europe.  Since beginning work with him last Spring I have been able to contribute to various papers and articles. I continued working with Professor Mylonas this semester, and most recently, I have been assisting him with updating Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2018 Report for Greece and Cyprus.

It was foolish of me to think that as a social science major I would need to wait for a senior thesis or graduate school to develop a close relationship with a faculty members. Professors are doing research in fields beyond just the hard sciences, and student engagement is feasible in all disciplines. My experience working with Professor Mylonas has been challenging and fulfilling, and I know that I am a stronger student and critical thinker because of this experience.   

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