The word “research” is a confusing term. When I was applying to colleges, a full four years ago (woah), it was one of those buzzwords I thought to include in my application without having a really good sense about what it would mean for me, someone interested in English, History, German Studies, and Political Science. I was fortunate enough to have done research projects in high school, but at that point, I imagined “real” college-level research as some combination of looking up information in books for class (i.e., a research paper), or something taking place in a grey-walled lab where everyone is wearing plastic gloves and safety glasses – in other words, not something I was eager to continue. Both of these things can be true to the experience of Rice research. But “research” can encompass much more than that, as I would find out in my four years here.
I’ve done some of the projects I imagined: many of my classes have involved research papers – long hours tracking down JSTOR articles or books in the library. Some of my papers turned into presentable material at conferences, research expositions, and workshops around campus. I’ve also worked to assist professors on their projects, both for research and later, for a summer job. Some of these projects are pretty small, where you’re just one research assistant among many, all working to make an impossibly large database understandable. Others, however, have given me a lot of creative leeway. For instance, my freshman and sophomore years, I got ended up working with my professors and helped write the literature review and results sections of what became a book chapter on the effect of gender in voter perceptions of corrupt politicians. Lastly, as a senior, I’ve chosen to take on a thesis project for my Political Science major and am doing a type of research that involves turning newspapers – in German, no less – into data points in an Excel spreadsheet, which I can eventually use to summarize the portrayal of immigrants in the German press last year. These projects are all related to the work I’m doing in my classes and my own academic goals.
Just thinking through the types of research projects I undertook at Rice, it turns out that “research” actually does encompass almost anything you would like to do. If your vision of research means following the instructions of a professor you respect and helping achieve their wide-reaching projects, you can do that. If you would rather see your own exploration of a topic from start to finish, you can do that. Rice offers both financial and personal support for projects you might accomplish over the summer and during the school year. No matter these project types, I’ve been given the support of grad students and professors working around me. Many people are involved in research at Rice in some capacity, and sometimes getting involved is as easy as asking a professor to learn about their projects or striking up a conversation with your teaching assistant after class. You never know what you can get involved with, and research skills never go away. If you want to get involved early, you can — but if you would rather wait, don’t worry. There are always going to be opportunities for pursuing projects to your own tastes.