Perhaps it is cliché and repetitive to say that summer research has provided me with the opportunity to apply the knowledge I have learned in class to a real world environment. I imagine that is fairly obvious. But there is much more to the experience than that. As a researcher, you are working on the cutting edge of science, the fringes of your fields knowledge, and the idea of being part of a discovery in that field is exhilarating.
Actually getting my hands on scientific equipment, measuring and weighing out chemicals, checking the results of my experiment and adjusting them accordingly, has allowed me to see how the process of science actually works. In the real world, results rarely come overnight, and there is often frustration at the pace with which research proceeds.
We have read about the scientific method since grade school, but how many times have we sat down and designed an experiment, thinking about dependent and independent variables, about formulating and testing our very own hypotheses? Science is an activity, not reading from a textbook or attending lectures; it is meant to be practiced, not simply read about or imagined.
This isn’t to say that the entire experience is thrilling. There are moments of disappointment, when the results don’t come back the way you had hoped for, or when you find that a simple mistake has been the source of error in your experiment all along.
But these moments are far outweighed by the thrill of achievement after getting results. They dwindle in comparison to the feeling of having contributed something to the scientific community and to mankind at large. Passing on knowledge, as we learn it, is at the heart of science, and speaks to the fundamentally inquisitive nature of our species. I consider myself privileged to play a part in it.
Thomas Brown is a junior majoring in biochemistry. He is doing his research under Dr. Mansoorabadi.
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Have you ever heard of an economic historian named Karl Polanyi? Unless you’re a fan of relatively obscure critiques of capitalism or histories of ancient economies, you may not be familiar with the bright socialist from Austro-Hungary. I didn’t come across him until I took Dr. Murray Jardine’s Intro to Political Theory class. Throughout the summer, I’ve been doing research on Polanyi for Dr. Jardine. My research wasn’t traditional; I had to read and write reports from six books on Polanyi, ranging from his magnum opus The Great Transformation to analyses of his works and lectures he gave.
Essentially, I distilled Polanyi’s philosophy and passed it on to Dr. Jardine. Throughout the process, I became much more familiar with not only Polanyi’s Communitarianism, but also with the advantages of study that goes beyond the classroom. In class, we went as far as to locate Polanyi’s star in the galaxy of political-economic thought, but no further. This isn’t a bad thing, per se; it’s just an inherent limit of the classroom setting. Classes usually can’t afford to spend too much time on any one topic, least of all introductory courses.
Doing research outside of the classroom, however, provided me with the opportunity to become more familiar with the nuances of his economic and political philosophy. Having a report on Polanyi due every week incentivized me to dig deeper, and as much as I hate to admit it, I probably wouldn’t have done so if my research weren’t structured that way.
Given our increasingly shorter attention spans, it can be hard to will yourself to dig deeper than one book, if even that, on any one subject. Five minute explanatory videos on Facebook have supplanted careful study. And as a result, most of us at one time or another fall victim to arguing, sometimes feverishly, stances we aren’t as acquainted with as we ought to be.
My summer research reminded me of the importance of making a consistent effort to couple what I learn in the classroom with perspective found outside of the classroom — especially regarding subjects I hold an opinion on. Moreover, it reminded me how fulfilling it can be to take the time to devote yourself to learning when I would otherwise be binge watching Twin Peaks or napping.
Weston Sims is a junior majoring in philosophy and political science. He did his research under Dr. Jardine.
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