Social Science Owl: Claire Noel

Most people think of Rice as a STEM focused school with most students majoring in natural science or engineering. I used to think the same thing and came into this university wanting to pursue a degree in natural science. However, I quickly found out that the people around me were not all studying science and a large amount of my friends were studying social sciences and humanities at Rice. Two of my O-week advisors, multiple people on my floor and in the campus band, and some of my closest friends are all pursuing a major in the social sciences. One of my friends, Claire, is a double major in political science and social policy analysis. Continue reading

The Wide World of Rice Research

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.

Full-Time Student, Part-Time Worker

As a college student, I already have a lot of responsibilities on my plate, ranging from academics to my extracurriculars to maintaining strong relationships with my friends. Another one of these responsibilities is my job. Last summer, I worked for OpenStax, a non-profit organization that utilizes openly-licensed resources to make free textbooks for students. I really enjoyed working here, as I was able to combine my passion for education accessibility and affordability with my interest in marketing and communications, all while making friendships along the way. When I found out that I had the opportunity to continue working here when the academic year started, I was ecstatic!

When the semester first started, I had a bit of difficulty managing my time so that I could best balance my schoolwork with my job, other extracurriculars, and social life. However, as the semester has progressed, I’ve gained a variety of crucial time management skills that I know will benefit me for the rest of my college career. If you’re one of the many Rice students who plan to work while in college, here are some tips to help you manage your time and keep track of your schedule:

-Use a planner or an online calendar to keep track of classes, club meetings, and appointments. I use Google Calendar, where I can easily input the times and locations of my classes and meetings and keep track of where I need to be via a color-coded system.

-Maintain a routine sleep schedule during the week. It can be really tempting to stay up in your college’s commons with your friends until 3 in the morning. Even though this is perfectly fine to do occasionally, if it becomes a regular activity then it can wreak havoc on your sleep schedule and leave you feeling exhausted (trust me, I’ve been there!). I find myself feeling healthiest and best organized when I maintain a consistent sleep schedule during the school week.

-Don’t be afraid to ask for help! College can be very stressful, and it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by everything on your plate. However, it’s crucial to remember that Rice has an amazing culture of care, and everyone you meet – ranging from your friends in your residential college to your professors to your magisters – care about your wellbeing and are here to support you during times of both success and trouble.

Undergraduate Research Opportunities Outside of the Lab?

As a pre-law student, I came into Rice thinking that I would never have to concern myself with research. Many of my freshmen pre-med friends flew into a frenzy at the end of first semester while applying and looking into labs where they could do topical research and get published. As a pre-law student, I thought this conversation did not apply to me, but I had no idea how Rice would surprise me. 


Every single residential college has some sort of Associate program- previous graduates or close adult affiliates of the college who continue to show their support through various methods: hosting O-Week groups at their house for dinner, mentoring students, or attending college dinners and Associates’ Nights to meet students. My residential college continues its Associate-student engagement by pairing interested students with an Associate who is currently working in a field they’re interested in pursuing later on. Given that I only have a general idea of what I want to do for my career, this program seemed like a perfect way to gain more insight into the more technical aspects of law.


I’ve happened to learn that Rice has a really funny way of presenting opportunities to its students.


The day I got to meet my Associate, our Associate Coordinators at had set up a lunch . Ironically, it wasn’t even my Associate that I began doing research with. Conversation was nice, and we left after exchanging emails and a promise to keep in touch. But on my way out from the lunch, I was stopped by another Associate who had seen me at a pre-law interest event and asked if I was still interested in a pre-law opportunity. Seemingly through fate, research with this Associate fell into my lap- but I wasn’t really sure what legal research even was or what kind of time commitment would be expected of me. After a week of deliberation, I was already working on my first problem with nothing but an online database and a collection of words that I had never heard before. My research is very different to what most of my other friends are involved in- instead of running gels or testing on animals in labs all I need is my laptop and I can get started analyzing Constitutional precedent in thousands of legal cases.


I’ve been researching for almost three months now, and I’ve learned skills that I haven’t yet in the classroom- or already got a head start on certain skills that I are gradually becoming more applicable in my coursework. You can imagine my surprise when I found out that my upper-level political science class is using Westlaw, a database that I’ve already become familiar with, thanks to my research. To be completely honest, it wasn’t at all rewarding in the beginning. There were questions with terms I hadn’t even heard of before and I had no idea where to start looking. But trial and error will get you further than just simply being shown how to climb the ropes.


My favorite part about the nature of my research is its flexibility- I have someone keeping me accountable so I don’t fall too far behind, but ultimately, the work is what I can and want to put into it. It’s a frustrating, seldom rewarding process- but when I do turn up with even slightly promising results, the painful hours of reading and rereading thirty page legal briefs and case citations are all worth it. Just a few months before, I hadn’t even known what legal research was, and now I’m so excited to be editing not just one, but two publications.




Making the Most out of Your Time at Rice Outside of Rice

Rice is your first-choice school because it’s a rare combination of a high-achieving environment perfectly balanced by a dynamic and close-knit social community. The residential colleges make your Hogwarts dreams come true, and you can’t wait to be friends with every squirrel on campus.

I can say this light-heartedly because this was me. These were essentially my exact reasons for wanting to come to Rice as a high-schooler, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you share my reasoning. I’m not here to undermine them at all – I still hope to one day become the resident squirrel whisperer – but the paradoxical truth is that I didn’t fully feel justified in choosing Rice over all other schools and above all other practical reasons (such as finances) until I took advantage of opportunities outside of Rice.

One of these opportunities was research in the Texas Medical Center. As a pre-med student, I felt some pressure to start doing research from freshman year, but the pressure wasn’t overwhelming enough to push me to do it on my own volition. So through all of freshman year, through all of sophomore year, the extent of my pre-med experience was taking the required courses, and during this time, I definitely wondered if there was any difference between me coming to Rice or going to my state school if all I was doing was taking classes like general physics and organic chemistry. It wasn’t until the summer after sophomore year that I decided to start research in Houston, and I opted to continue researching in the same lab through my junior year. UT Health is a mere five minute walk away from my college, but even being less than a mile away from Rice, I suddenly felt like my time at Rice was truly worth my decision to come to Rice in the first place. Balancing a full class schedule with a research schedule, switching my Rice ID for my UT ID as I pushed Rice’s bordering hedges out of the way, made me feel, for the first time, that I was truly redeeming my time as a Rice student.

Learning confocal microscopy with my mentor in lab

A second off-campus opportunity that I do not regret taking advantage of involved my involvement with the Campanile Yearbook. Every semester, the Campanile staff is invited to attend the National College Media Convention, and as copy editor this year, I decided to go to the fall convention held in Dallas. I had no idea what to expect since it was first time going to a convention about college publications, but once I got there, I realized that I was participating in something much bigger than myself. Universities from across the nation were there, pitching ideas for up-and-coming publications, getting their current volumes edited by publishing professionals, learning how to be better reporters and writers and designers. It was amazing to be there and to represent Rice. When we returned, I was more excited than I had ever been to create a stunning 2017-2018 yearbook.

CMA Dallas with Campanile Yearbook staff

When you choose to come to Rice, you’re not just choosing the school. Rice itself indeed has amazing opportunities for internships, volunteering, work, and networking, but so does the city of Houston and so does the state of Texas. It’s never too early to start seizing these opportunities, and never be afraid to step outside your comfort zone, maybe even far away from Rice.

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.