How did you first get involved in research on campus? My first semester at Berkeley I made myself a promise: I would go to two out of my four Professor's office hours each week with substantial questions. New to Berkeley as a transfer student, I knew I had less time than others to create meaningful faculty mentoring relationships. By the end of my first semester I was offered a URAP position which launched my experience in research, including work-based travel to European archives and cultural institutions the following summer. I got involved in research at Berkeley thanks to persistence and overcoming the initial intimidation of speaking with faculty members regularly. The result, for me, has been an irreplaceable learning experience.
Did you get involved with other research projects on campus? While at Berkeley I conducted faculty-driven research through the URAP program leading to a job post-graduation, research for another faculty member's book, received a Townsend Center grant for research based travel to the Netherlands, and concluded my undergraduate education with an independent research project, with archival work carried out in Kyoto, funded through the Haas Scholars Program.
One project enabled me to examine 15th and 16th century drawings in the Rijksmuseum prentenkabinet in Amsterdam, another project took me to small temples hidden in San Francisco's Chinatown, and my own research investigated the visual presentation of verbal prayer in 13th century Japan. The projects were diverse, but each taught me what a privilege it is to be given the time and funds to simply investigate a topic in depth, to learn hands-on and outside of the comfort of the classroom.
What did you gain from the experience? Ultimately, what I have gained from my experience with research at the undergraduate level is a deep passion for the work of my field. I had a pretty clear inkling as to what I wanted to do with my life after college when I arrived at UC Berkeley. However, hands-on research on a variety of projects has given me the assurance to invest fully in the scholarship I love. I have learned nuances regarding my field, eye-opening details about the world around me, and honed my desire to continue challenging myself with further academic work.
Research also taught me patience. Moments of insight do not arrive when you expect them, want them, or need them. You have to hone your sensitivity to what patterns are emerging, what wild goose chases to invest in, and when to embrace changing direction.
Have your research experiences informed your career choices? For me, research at the undergraduate level was constant confirmation of my desire to continue my education in graduate school. Research both humbled me and empowered me. I was never more challenged nor more excited at Berkeley than when involved in research. I am applying to PhD programs in Art History. I hope someday to teach at a university that is as generous in its trust in and support of undergraduate research as Berkeley is.
Were you able to apply new knowledge gained to other contexts? While research on the surface presents as an exercise in immense specificity, often eccentric subject matter, and seemingly field-centric implications, it is in fact relevant to everything we do in our lives. Researchers are the mavericks of any given field, pushing the boundaries of what we know and what we think we know. Good research takes you out of your comfort zone, inviting you to re-evaluate how you learn from the world around you.
What advice do you have for undergraduates who want to do research? Research takes a deep comfort with the knowledge that you don't actually know very much at all. It is inherently slow, long, and detailed. It carries with it a great deal of weight, a demand for integrity, and the humility of self-knowledge. Conducting research is also exciting, challenging, and a passionate endeavor. Try it. There are many other ways to contribute to the field you care about, but research carries with it a special thrill for me along with many large stacks of books. Personally, I couldn't be happier.