It’s easy to see the Brackenridge Research Fellowship as a sort of isolated experience. You do some work, make something neat, present your findings, and go home with a stipend and a new bulletpoint for your resume. But that’s not really the full picture, nor are those steps as simple as the few words they are expressed by. Much of the benefits of the program are softer and more subtle.
No Research is Isolated
Going into this project, I saw my model translation project as primarly a theoretical contribution. There would be some pedagogical benefit in that the comparisons would uncover differences in the frameworks, but the translations themselves would not actually be useful. However, through a combination of meeting with my research mentors each week and the Fellowship priming me to think about the significance of my work, I realized there were in fact practical benefits. Much like natural language translation, model translation allows models of one type to be understood by someone unfamiliar with that particular framework. In addition, a translated model can be analyzed using tools designed for that translation’s framework. This helped me connect my work to the larger modeling community.
Learning How I Work
The nature of the Brackenridge is rooted in independence – it’s literally the 3rd word in the Fellowship’s description. This can of course be liberating, allowing you to develop your project exactly the way you want, but it also forces you to figure out what ‘the way you want’ actually is. Research is tough stuff. It’s important to realize that everyone gets stuck sometimes, everyone has unproductive days, and progress isn’t always tangible. It’s important to remember that research is a community, even if you tackle a problem independently. And it’s important to know the way you work best, to help yourself and your project. For me, a big part of the summer (particularly early on) was figuring out what a good work schedule looked like for me so I would stay productive. I also realized that it’s very helpful for me to have small subtasks clearly identified for me to hammer out – it’s much harder to tackle big problems without an attack plan.
Beyond the Brackenridge
The Brackenridge really isn’t very isolated at all. Not only do you maintain the skills you’ve developed and the knowledge you’ve accumulated, you keep the connections you’ve built, and those connections are what research is built on. One of the most important benefits of the Brackenridge is that it allows you to connect with people both in your fields and beyond. Not only do I have a stronger connection with my research mentors, who I will continue to do some modeling work with in the fall, but I also have a connection with the greater Brackenridge Fellow community, stretching across disciplines and crossing boundaries.
The Brackenridge Fellowship is a microcosm of the research experience, and research is all about questions. I am left with questions coming out of it. “How will my project this summer be useful to me or to others going forward?” “What does the rest of my path through college look like?” “How will research fit into that path?” Just as no research project can solve everything, I don’t purport to know all the answers to these questions. But I do think I know a little bit more about what research really is.