Getting Started: How, who, and what
I first came to know my research mentor during my sophomore year. I knew I was I interested in Asian Studies, and so I’d enrolled in various courses in Asian history, literature, and languages. That fall, I enrolled in the Modern Chinese Literature course Dr. Kun Qian was teaching in the Chinese department. I had a definite interest in the course material, but at that point I wasn’t ready to commit to research. At the time, (and still now), I was fascinated by the topics she’d covered, including culture, identity, and the historical unconsciousness viewed through the lens of Chinese literature.
Two years later, the independent study option offered through the Chinese department actually afforded me the opportunity to connect with Dr. Qian again. Through the study, I chose one of the topics from the curriculum to do a deep dive into the material, with the goal of producing a short paper. The topic I’d chosen—modern Chinese revolutionary practice—was fascinating for me. What started out as a short paper, I ended up writing as a 14-page research paper. That’s when I realized I wanted to pursue more research in this field. With that, I decided to apply for the Chinese Honor’s Thesis, and I asked Dr. Qian to be my supervising faculty mentor.
Looking back: Any advice to give students starting out in research?
In my case, I was extraordinarily grateful to Dr. Qian for encouraging undergraduate students to take on research in Chinese literature and for giving me multiple opportunities to study with her. Still, my advice to students just starting out would be to have a talk with the professor of the class you’re taking that you find fascinating. Go to office hours, stay after class to ask questions—as much as you can, show your interest.
Personally, however, I’ve always found that networking or showing verbal interest relatively intimidating (especially as an underclassman). Instead, I’ve realized it’s much more constructive to take my work to a professor and initiate a conversation that way. Taking, for instance, a paper draft or outline to a professor, along with specific questions relevant to course material and asking for clarification.
If you’re not sure what exactly you’re interested in, and depending on your major or plan of study, try taking an independent study with a professor whose work you admire. In my experience, it’s a great way to get a better feel for the topics that interest you and how those interests might overlap with the professor’s area of expertise.
Looking forward: Career and research goals
Currently, my professional and research goals are aligned to pursue an MBA in International Human Resources Development. The research process and experience has been incredibly valuable to me, even outside the academic space. In the past year, I’ve served as Research and Design Fellow at a non-profit organization, where various hard and soft skills such as information synthesis, research writing, and data analysis have aided me in surprising and relevant ways.