As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on my portfolio, I’m a tour guide here at Agnes Scott, and I had a very weird experience while giving a tour the other day.
My partner tour guide and I were standing in Bullock Science Center. This is the part of the tour where we almost always bring up the number of students who complete some form of research during their time here. My partner, who has done and will do more research next semester, said she was one of that 69% of students who complete research. I had this strange moment where I stopped and, for the first time, realized I was a part of that number, too.
It might not make sense that I was so surprised by that fact, but it’s certainly surprising to me. I started school here with every intention of having more than one field of study, but I knew my main focus was going to be my English major. I had spent several years in middle and high school focused solely on STEM– I had wanted to be a geneticist, once, and even when to a STEM magnet high school for it– and after I realized that science wasn’t my passion, I had firmly redirected my focus to the humanities. I wanted to study literature and write; if I did anything else on top of that, I had figured it would be language studies, political science, or many some social sciences. I had a vague interest in trying anthropology– and, because of the major structure here, sociology– but that was more of a passing interest than anything else. I didn’t think I would be doing research any time soon when I started my first year.
The funny thing is that now I sit here, finishing up my final research proposal and IRB (Institutional Review Board) approval form for the eight weeks of sociological research I’ll be doing in the spring, working on all of this as I also work on grad school applications to go get my master’s and PhD in sociology so I can enter into research professionally.
It’s funny how things turn out, isn’t it?
The research I’m going to be completing is for my senior capstone project. The course spans two semesters; in the first semester, we do all the pre-work– the planning, reviewing the existing literature, writing the proposal, planning the actual research– and in the second semester, we spend eight weeks conducting the research, four weeks analyzing it, and the rest of the semester writing our research paper and presenting our findings. ASC emphasizes students getting to do research during their undergraduate experience– it’s one of the things we like to point out on the tour– and that really is true. The sociology/anthropology major cares about it just as much: one of our major learning outcomes is to learn to “effectively collect, analyze, and present research data.” Thus, every sociology/anthropology major gets to do their own independent research, and I think that’s spectacular.
My research project is focused on social media. Specifically, I’m looking at how Instagram impacts the self-esteem and gender performance of non cisgender people. There’s been a lot of research about how social media affects girls and young women, and even research on young men, but there’s a lack of existing literature about people who identify outside a gender binary. Since Instagram is such a visual medium, I thought there might be a higher impact of that platform on conceptions of gender and gender performance, especially for people who are in the process of figuring out their gender identity and the performance of that identity.
Getting in to planning this research has really shown me how much I love the idea of conducting research. Part of the reason I got into sociology was because I love to investigate people and the way they interact. It wasn’t until I actually got into planning my own research that I began to realize how important research can be– how, if I choose to go pursue a graduate degree and conduct my own research, I’ll be able to focus my time and energy research real-world social issues that I think need to be discussed. I know that what research inherently is, but it kind of didn’t register viscerally until I got into it myself. I think that’s part of why ASC cares so much about making sure we all get the opportunity to do research if we want to. Having the hands-on experience is so important in the process of figuring out your passions and directions. Just like the eight Summit Learning Outcome says, Summit aims for every student to “identify and assess one’s values, interests, and abilities,” and having this experience has been really important to that process for me. After all– how else would I have gone from being a student who swore she’d never research again, to a senior in college hoping to get her PhD so she can go into research as part of her career?
Like I said– it’s funny how things turn out. But I’m grateful to my school for being with me through every step.