Going into this research project, I definitely overestimated how much time I would have to research everything that I wanted to. I was so excited to examine the role that prejudice and xenophobia played in immigration during times of disease that I tried to take on way more than what was feasible and realistic. Initially, I wanted to study every epidemic in U.S. history. I came into this semester thinking that my research would be more interesting and more holistic if I covered as much material as possible. However, as the semester progressed and I felt myself struggling to hit the research benchmarks that I had set for myself, I realized that I had narrow down my moments of historical focus to be able to generate an in-depth analysis. This research experience taught me that focus and a limited scope can actually be beneficial to projects, and that I don’t need to cover everything to produce a project of value.
The CURF was truly my first experience with a research project of my own, as well as my first research experience outside of S.T.E.M. I learned that it is ok to change course and reevaluate what your project is going to look like halfway through. Moreover, I discovered the importance of taking a break and checking in every few weeks to assess my research strategy and scope. During one of these moments of reflection, I took some time to evaluate the data collection methods that were most successful for me. Interestingly enough, what helped me find the most information was looking through the references and citations of other books and articles. My research was in a pretty niche and highly interdisciplinary field, so this strategy was incredibly helpful in exposing me to new sources.
For me, the most valuable aspect of the CURF experience was the emphasis on learning how to do research, instead of just on producing the most groundbreaking results. As someone who was new to research, my experience with the CURF taught me how to productively research and how to take time to think through the actual implications of the information that I had gathered. With the CURF, I always felt like I had the freedom to learn how to create an interesting project without too much pressure.
Now that the CURF is over, I hope to apply my newly acquired research skills to a larger research endeavor, specifically to a BPhil and perhaps a Brackenridge Fellowship. I am still unsure whether I want to use future research opportunities to build on the work that I have already done, or whether I want to explore a different field altogether. I have not yet decided which areas I really want to focus on after graduation, so perhaps a completely new research topic will help me to discover a hidden passion of mine.