Research as an English Major: Beyond Reading Lists and Academic Essays

When I first got to Rice, I had no idea that I would conduct research in the Department of English. I certainly did not know about the abundant opportunities to pursue independent projects, nor did I know that I could work on an Honors Thesis consisting primarily of my own original, creative work.

As a senior, I have come a long way. I arrived at Rice with aspirations to conduct psychological research (which I still did and continue to do today in Dr. Mikki Hebl’s Industrial/Organizational Psychology Lab) – and psychological research only. I then took a FWIS (Freshman Writing Seminar) revolving around American poetry, and felt fulfilled and at my happiest while reading and writing poems. It didn’t take long for me to take a couple more poetry courses and declare my English major – excited yet unsure about what exactly my future as an English major held. All I knew was that I loved to read and I loved to write, and I still loved to conduct research.

As a Minter Summer Scholar, I spent several hours roaming bookstores in Boston; the Harvard Book Store quickly became my favorite, thanks to its international poetry section.

After completing the majority of the English major’s requirements, I considered taking an independent study where I could create my own coursework and study content that was not otherwise taught in the English department. Seeking mentorship, I reached out to my ENGL 300 professor, whose knowledge of foreign authors, philosophers, and films always sparked long conversations during her office hours. She was and continues to be incredibly supportive of my efforts to incorporate foreign poetry and translation into my academic experience. While taking independent studies with her during my junior year, I found myself exposed to foreign authors and poets. The most exciting part for me was the discovery of writers from my homeland; I was suddenly reading novels by Turkish authors and beginning to produce my own poems in Turkish. As a native Turkish speaker who grew up relatively unexposed to Turkish poetry, this was a huge step in not only my academic but also my personal growth. Poetry – reading it, writing it, and translating it – became my creative outlet as well as my medium for thinking through my homeland’s turbulent sociopolitical climate. With the support of my professor-turned-research-advisor, I experimented with a number of poetic forms, turned scattered ideas into portfolios of poetry, and spent 2 weeks this past summer in Boston researching foreign poetry and reading criticism on translation – all thanks to the Minter Summer Scholarship in the Department of English.

The beautiful Boston Public Library, where I spent most of my days researching translation and poetry.

Some find it easy to get caught up with the idea that being an English major only involves writing essays and reading books. However, there are so many opportunities to take all of that a step further, to conduct research in the English department (and beyond as well – in the Humanities Research Center, for instance), and to pursue research topics more independently with the guidance and support of a mentor. My time in the English department has certainly benefited from all the work I’ve done in my independent studies (even though it never really felt like “work,” as I was reading and writing about material that either I chose or my professor recommended to me). Moreover, I feel fortunate to both pursue research and produce creative works. Now, I am excited to wrap up my time at Rice by applying everything I have learned in my independent studies and my summer research to my Honors Thesis: a book of original poetry.

My Favorite Nooks at Rice University

My first few months at Rice have probably been the most exhilarating months of my life. I have learned innumerable things, met interesting new people, and had a myriad of new experiences. But at the same time, these months have also been the most turbulent. I’ve struggled with homesickness and a good share of difficult exams, and sometimes I feel like my life is spiraling out of control. Although I know that this is natural of any big transition, I find that sometimes I need a place to be alone with my thoughts and destress at a vibrant and lively place like Rice. So here are my three favorite spots to work, think, and destress!

  • Every Friday I have a one hour break between my Chemistry and my Math classes. I fight the temptation to go to my room and take a nap and instead head to my favorite spot on campus. It’s a bench outside Fondren Library, overlooking the academic quad. This spot is not exactly secluded and quiet, but I don’t mind the bustling activity of the steady stream of people walking past Fondren and around the academic quad. I get to enjoy the warm morning sun and the (mostly) lovely Houston weather. The hour that I spend here is probably the most relaxing and productive time I get all week, and I like to spend it reading a book or reviewing some math homework.
  • I love libraries, and Fondren Library is no exception. I spend most of my time studying on the first floor, the sixth floor, or in the basement. However, when I need some inspiration for a paper, want to watch a few episodes of a show that I have been binging, or just spend some time thinking by myself, I head to the Quiet Study Space in the Brown Fine Arts Library. Hidden amongst stacks of books about Music, Art, and Architecture, this study space gives me the quiet alone time that I sometimes crave. When I want a break, I just browse the shelves for some interesting books! 
  • Sometimes, when I need to blow off some steam (and I’m too lazy to go to the gym), I go for a late-night stroll around campus under the night sky. I always make sure I stop at James Turrell’s ‘Twilight Epiphany’ Skyspace. This art installation looks beautiful during the light shows at sunrise and sunset, and at night, it is quiet and peaceful. For me, sitting on a bench in Skyspace amidst the cool night breeze serves as an instant de-stressor. It is the best place on campus to just sit, relax, and be alone for a while.

Being Pre-Law at Rice

I have had a truly enriching experience as a pre-law student, and fully believe that in addition to its many opportunities in STEM fields, Rice devotes an incredible amount of time and resources to every area of academics. Although Rice has great STEM programs that it is rightfully well known for, its other programs don’t fall short of their STEM counterparts.

When I first came to Rice, I asked my O-Week advisors if there was a pre-law group on campus and was quickly directed to Legalese, Rice’s only and official pre-law organization. Led by students with support from an amazing pre-law advisor, it proved to be incredibly helpful as they unite students interested in pursuing the pre-law track, as well as provide information regarding law school admissions, law school itself, and the legal profession. They also organize various events throughout the year, from guest speakers to pre-law fairs to legal career panels. Through Legalese, I was able to meet an attorney who connected me to an internship that sparked my interest in corporate litigation.

In addition to Legalese, there are countless ways to get involved in legal and policy affairs, from research opportunities at the Baker Institute of Public Policy and the Kinder Institute of Urban Policy to individual research projects with professors. In addition, the recently developed Law, Justice, and Society Scholars Program is a truly remarkable addition that I encourage every pre-law student to take. It is one semester long, in which you intern at a nonprofit, court, or other legal organization, as well as enroll in a special law class. I interned at a nonprofit and had the opportunity to learn about criminal justice reform and voting discrimination, both of which opened my eyes and challenged my preconceived notions of the U.S. justice system. The class also offered me a chance to learn about the legal system, court cases, and how to conduct legal research, which greatly benefited me in other areas of my life.

As law does not have a required major or set of courses, there is a lot of flexibility in terms of building an academic plan. This can be quite overwhelming, though, as it’s difficult to figure out exactly what you ought to do that meets your passions but still demonstrates rigor and prestige for law schools. I sought help from the Center for Career Development, which aided me tremendously in picking courses that tailored to my interests and the skills I need for law school.

Those are just some of the abundant resources Rice provides for not only pre-law students, but really for any student pursuing what they love. I write from a pre-law perspective, but this applies to any academic field. I firmly believe that, while Rice is still expanding its Humanities and Social Sciences programs, there are already many rewarding and fulfilling opportunities that you can easily seek out with the help of various on-campus resources. So are you thinking about being pre-law? Attend a pre-law session. Talk to the pre-law advisor. Visit the CCD. Ask your professor if they’re currently doing research and if they’d like to have you on board. Escape your comfort zone, put yourself out there, make the most out of your experience, and you’ll be presented with amazing support and guidance that’ll greatly shape your future.

KTRU: Rice’s Student Radio Station

For the longest time, I wasn’t involved heavily with an extracurricular activity at Rice. All of my friends were in some sort of club or organization that they identified closely with, but I felt left out since I hadn’t found my niche. I joined some here and there my freshman year, but none really appealed to what I was looking for. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I saw an application to join KTRU. I had seen the KTRU stickers plastered on various places around campus, from staircases to lampposts, but I never really knew what it was until this year.

KTRU is Rice’s student-run radio station, which can be listened to locally in Houston or from its website. The station is on the second floor of the student center, and it’s one of my favorite places on campus. I decided to apply this year and I’m really glad that I did. Apart from the radio aspect, KTRU is a club as well. It hosts concerts for the public, and it has several events for its members and DJs throughout the year. Since joining KTRU, I’ve met a lot of new people from campus that have similar interests as me, I’ve made a lot of new friends to attend concerts and shows with, and I’m a part of a community that I feel connected to.

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The Quokka Challenge at Rice

There is a multiplicity of ways for all Rice students to immerse themselves in the exciting and thriving Rice community. This can range from joining committees at their residential colleges to joining Intramural or Club sports teams to becoming a member of any club which suits their interests. One club that I joined is the Rice Alliance for Mental Health Awareness, which is better known as RAMHA. The mission of RAMHA is to “reduce the stigma surrounding mental health disorders” by encouraging all members of the Rice community to openly discuss mental health and to take care of their own. RAMHA hosts various events throughout the year, including Body Positivity Week and the Quokka Challenge.

The Quokka Challenge is an eight week-long program that various universities across the country, such as Georgetown, Princeton, and The Ohio State University, participate in. Each week, participants are encouraged to engage in a particular healthy behavior or habit that has been empirically proven to boost one’s well-being. Some of the challenges this year include exercise, good deeds, journaling, and giving thanks. At the end of each week, participants can choose to answer a few questions about that week’s challenge online and can even win a prize, like a gift card to a local restaurant or a stress ball. At Rice, the residential college that has the most students taking part in the challenge by the end of the eight weeks wins a super fun study break with a ton of awesome food!

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Dipping a Toe Into Rice? Immerse Yourself in Rice.

For most Rice students, their Rice careers begin during O-Week. For mine, it was a hot and sweaty week in the middle of July, filled with sleepless nights and some of the best memories I’ve ever made. Elated after my admission into Rice, it wasn’t long until I got an email about a cryptic summer program called “Urban Immersion”. Coincidentally, my birthday fell on the last day of the program- and I was initially just excited to spend my birthday with people from school for once.

I won’t give away too much about Urban Immersion- after all, so much of the fun was because we had virtually no idea what was going on until the night before- but I will say that it made me develop so much as an individual. For a general overview, Urban Immersion was a six day summer program that requires an application. 24 incoming freshmen are selected, and the experience is led by 3 current Rice students who have been planning and training for Urban Immersion for months. Over the course of the six days, we worked with various non-profit organizations and explore Houston, staying at a location off of Rice’s campus. From dawn (literally getting up at 6 AM) to the time we slept (usually 2 AM), there was hardly a single moment of down time. As grueling as it sounds, each activity provided indispensible knowledge. Even though I’ve lived in Houston for the past five years, I learned the most about my home in that one week.

The takeaways from Urban Immersion go so far beyond just the friends I made. Sure, it was great coming into Rice with a whopping 26 other students I trusted and had great memories with, but when I came to Urban Immersion, I thought I knew everything about civic engagement and being an ally to communities. It turns out that I only knew the tip of the iceberg. Urban Immersion didn’t just prove to me that I had so much left to learn, but also that becoming more civically engaged with your community is an ongoing progress. It’s just as possible to regress in the path to active citizenry, which is totally okay! What’s more important is the continual and conscious effort to grow and address social issues in life.

Urban Immersion acquainted me with not only some of the most selfless student leaders I have ever had the privilege of meeting, but also instilled in me a determination to take my experiences from the summer even further. Upon encouragement from my Urban Immersion coordinator, I applied and got accepted into an Alternative Spring Break. Though my journey into civic leadership has just begun, these past few months as a Rice student have already challenged my previous knowledge and spurred on growth in leaps and bounds.

When they talk about going outside of Rice’s hedges, let me tell you that each and every day here prepares me to maximize my impact on wherever I go.