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.

OWLways Learning, OWLways Exploring

One of the things that I love about Rice is the academic freedom that we possess as students. Even though I am majoring in math and economics, I am still able to take classes in a wide array of subjects I’m curious about.

This semester, I decided to take a leap of faith and enrolled in an architecture course. The Rice School of Architecture is one of the highest-ranked programs in the country, so naturally, I was curious to get a glimpse of what being an “archi” was all about. The only time that I had ever been in the architecture building during my freshman year was for Architectronica (a party put on within the architecture school where they play electronic music that’s in sync with a light show – it’s really cool!). I wanted to take advantage of the fact that, as a Rice student, I had the opportunity to take a class from such a well-respected program.

Architectronica is the only party thrown by a major/school on campus! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLz5h8cNoC0

From Le Corbusier to Frank Lloyd Wright, and from classicism to postmodernism, we have looked at a wide array of architects, their works, and their varied approaches to design. Our most recent assignment was to build an architectural model out of cardstock. This was a great creative outlet that allowed me to “think like an architect”, something I had never done before!

Most importantly, this class has made me think about the built world in a completely different way. A prime example of this occurred last week, when my class took advantage of some nice weather to explore the architecture on campus. We stopped to examine Herring Hall, one of the humanities and social sciences buildings. I had been in this building many times for class and walked by it on my daily treks from my dorm to Fondren Library. Never giving it much thought, I always considered it to be “just another building on campus.” However, as we walked around its exterior, I began to take note of certain features of the building that I had never noticed before. The patterns in the colored bricks, the strange placement of certain windows, and the half-finished columns, all things I had never given much thought to, suddenly stood out to me as we related elements of Herring Hall’s design to the theories and styles that we discussed in lecture.

Herring Hall’s outdoor courtyard.

This class, like most others I have taken, has shown me that Rice can help you see the world in brand new ways. Students are encouraged to be intellectually curious, and this is one of the things that makes the Rice experience truly one-of-a-kind. Regardless of where your interests lie, you’re free to be the “architect” of your own future here!

Mentality Shift: A Junior’s Final Days

A college junior’s last few weeks is a period of reckoning. It is a timeframe wracked with concerns (for the future), nostalgia (for the past), and angst (in the present). It is the first time your scope is really broadened into the post-graduation context, when you are forced to look beyond the receipt of a diploma, and must instead not only imagine but plan life beyond Rice.

Of late, I’ve been attending graduate school information sessions. I have met with professors regarding recommendation letters and general advice for what lies ahead. At the same time, it is probably the first sustained period of time that I’ve had some substantial hope and anticipation for all that is yet to come: acceptances, rejections, the lot. Especially as an underclassman, one is still not used to rejections. They happen a lot, by the way. When they’re few and far between, one doesn’t really know how to cope with them. Now a tenured recipient of rejections, I’ve learned it is not so much the “yes/no” decision that defines you, but rather how you deal with the decision and learn from it.

The feeling of “looking forward” transcends academics and professional life–I have begun to envision which friends I’ll stay in contact with and which, just as in life immediately following high school, will fade into the white noise of the contextual past. I have also begun to keep better track of all the little things that happen every day at Rice–if I wait any longer, I worry that I’ll miss some!

Rice is small. It seems like everyone knows everyone. As a result, I think we sometimes wind up complaining about the bubble. But in doing so, we forget how nice it is to be in a place of such familiarity. Studying abroad, not knowing anyone, taught me as much.

All this to say that I’ve treasured my time at Rice thus far, and continue to cherish every moment, but before this semester was not really comfortable with the whole graduating thing. However, the only way to take control of your future is to greet it with optimism, not anxiety. It’s a lesson that I couldn’t have learned earlier, and probably the most important lesson I’ve learned.

Pens are Still Relevant

Though we have all the wonderful technologies of laptops and tablets allowing for less physical writing, the latter is not yet completely avoidable.

When it comes to essays, typing only gets you to the first draft. The Center for Writing, Oral, and Visual Communication will ask you to bring that first draft printed out to your meeting. At this meeting they will tweak, sharpen, rearrange, and improve your essay – but you will need to take notes. The scribbles in different colors of pen will help you better remember what to do for your next essay.

You will have enormous amounts of free pens from various events thrown by the university. And these you will see for moments at a time throughout your four years here, as you trade them amongst your peers and keep them in your backpack at all times for emergencies. These will be great for when you forget your laptop, or when you need to write down a note on your arm from a passing conversation.

For your division 3 classes (hard and natural sciences), typing equations as fast as they are being written is impossible, so you will need a physical notebook to go along with the pens you brought. This strategy transfers to homework that is more quantitative as well. Pens are also required for many exams written in blue books.

You’ll definitely need to to keep a pen on your person during any professional events. If you are at an information session, you will need to jot down the name of every name and email address that comes up in the presentation. And you will take notes during career fairs to remember which companies were the best fits for you. And the type of pen in this case can matter (hint: get a pen that is heavy).

Not to mention there will be many stressful times at Rice where clicking, tapping, and unscrewing will keep your mind at peace.