How did you first get involved in research on campus? I first got involved in research as a sophomore through a URAP project for the sociology department. With the wishful thought of becoming an academic, I was anxious to get my head fully on research mode.
Did you get involved with other research projects on campus? In the following semester, Professor Bryan-Wilson from the art history department offered me participation in a hands-on exploration of dissident art made during the Pinochet regime in Chile. As I am Chilean, the project seemed intimately interesting and important. During the semester I used my article coding skills to get up to speed with Professor Bryan-Wilson's thought on the topic. I then had a wonderful time accompanying her on a trip to Chile to conduct archival research and interviewing. I was eventually able to use the hands-on experience I gained from this second URAP experience to conduct my own thesis research. My initial experience with URAP opened the doors to the undergraduate research world for me.
Following my URAP experiences with the departments of sociology and art history, I took part in URAP projects for the departments of psychology and later anthropology. Though in some ways I wish I had jumped right into working with Professor Cohen for the anthropology department--tracing and analyzing the development of the UIDAI biometrics project in India--my other URAP experiences, including with the Early Learning Lab of the psychology department, served to give me a wide survey of social science research methodologies. I was therefore in position to make a wise choice about what to do for my honors thesis.
What did you gain from the experience? Despite some initial trepidation, delight soon superseded my anxiety of having to 'do research'. 'Doing research' meant reading more than I could ever imagine and other normally painful things, but it also meant meeting and laughing along with new people just like you and me. More specifically, I was delighted to form part of a group where such a widely debated topic could be discussed and analyzed without falling into partisanship. Though I worked on my first URAP project for only one semester, I was able to gain substantial technical knowledge (most importantly article coding and collective brainstorming). I also gained impetus to continue in the undergraduate research world. From my initial semester with URAP onward, I did not stop participating in undergraduate research. I became personally convinced that without extra-curricular research positions every semester, I would not receive the quality of education I have had the privilege to receive.
Have your research experiences informed your career choices? My undergraduate research experience definitely informs my future career plan. I plan to go to graduate school starting 2015 (following a year undertaking an independent project funded by the Judith Lee Stronach Baccalaureate Prize) and eventually to become a professional academic. Though this was my dream before I became involved with the Office of Undergraduate Research, the Office gave me a platform where to test this dream. I am now confident that graduate school is right for me. I plan to enter graduate school in order to continue the kind of ethnographic research the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarships gave me the opportunity to develop.
Were you able to apply new knowledge gained to other contexts? I learned that my passion consists of fieldwork involving issues that have direct relevance to human wellbeing. In addition to becoming involved in the production of research through platforms like URAP, I became involved in graduate student research groups (where the results and implications of research were discussed), and even created an anthropology undergraduate research symposium where fellow undergraduate students and I could do just that. I also became involved in the Berkeley Undergraduate Journal, where I could see the entirely other side of the coin: when and where research gets edited and published. But I appreciate the most the world, the people, and the places I was able to discover through my research. By the "world," I refer to the research world, everywhere from staff who facilitate research opportunities to faculty whose vigor and creativity never cease to amaze me. By "people," in my case, I refer to my research subjects, Rapanui people who taught me another way of thinking about the past, the present, and the future. By "places," finally, I refer to the intimate places on campus--like a seminar room and a professor's office--where people, in a joyful manner unbeknownst to most freshmen and sophomores, conduct research every day. I also refer to the physical places where my research took me--as close as San Francisco and as far as Santiago and Easter Island. I refer as well to other university campuses I was able to go to and present my research at conferences.
What advice do you have for undergraduates who want to do research? Honestly, the best advice I can give up and coming students is to take it easy. If I were reading this article about another student only a couple of years ago, I would have never imagined I could have been in the position I am now. It is incredible the rate at which you can grow as a researcher when you are an undergraduate, but at the same time the research world will seem ever larger and overwhelming when you are recently entering it. Do one thing at a time, be consistent, try to follow a certain track, and you will do well.