Let’s make it (net)work

Over the course of the summer, I’ve enjoyed talking to students from an array of different fields who are all passionate about what they’re researching and genuinely curious about the work that others are doing. It’s easy to talk to your fellow students, not so much because you’re the same age but because you’re in the same place in your careers. Looking at the profiles of Brackenridge alumni, it can be intimidating to see people who seem lightyears ahead of you in terms of professional development. But it is also rewarding to see alumni who have taken the skills they gained from the fellowship and at Pitt in general and used them to build careers and make real change. That’s what interested me the most about Cara Margherio, a sociologist who works oversees projects to better some very deep-seated problems in STEM fields, including systemic racism and sexism. To me, she seemed successful because she has been able to apply her research to make concrete change where it’s really needed — something I need to push myself to do, and something I asked her to give me advice on.

I reached out to my research mentor, Josh Ellenbogen, in the Art History department, mostly because I had him for a couple classes and really enjoyed them, but also because I knew he was open to helping undergrads. His research is primarily on photography, which represents a major shift in visual culture — although it doesn’t often grapple with questions of gender, it does address issues of class and social issues like crime and “deviance.” And he certainly knows what he’s talking about when it comes to gendered approaches to art history. I think what’s most important in finding a mentor is finding someone not with your exact interests, but with a strong background in their field and a willingness to support students.

Van Gogh wasn’t a “lone genius.” He had a network of other artists who shared ideas, including his roommate, Paul Gauguin. Both artists also stand as examples of the problematic aspects of art history. Gauguin idealized and infantilized Tahitian culture, while the mentally ill Van Gogh stands as a model for the problematic ideal of artist-as-tourtured-genius.

I want to go into academia. The more I think about it the more I realize that although I enjoy research and want to do it for myself, I want to teach and be a mentor to someone else. I’ve been thinking about what Dr. Howard said about imposter syndrome, and how she never feels like she can confidently speak as an authority in her field, even though she’s more than well qualified. I think that by surrounding myself with people who feel the same way– who are talented academics who still doubt themselves– can provide a good support network. It’s not just about getting ahead in your career, but also finding people who understand your personal anxieties– and can recommend a paper to read when you feel like you don’t know enough on a subject.

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