My initial draw to the Brackenridge Fellowship was the prospect of connecting with passionate students from across the academic spectrum. To me, this aspect of the program is just as important as the research I am undertaking through it. As someone with so many jumbled interests (see my introductory post), interdisciplinarity has proven foundational to my experience here at Pitt, and I was very excited to both share my multifaceted academic trajectory and broaden my knowledge through encounters with other researchers upon my admission to this program.
So far, the opportunities for interdisciplinary discovery provided by the Brackenridge community have been even greater than I could have imagined. Though all of us in this year’s fellowship program have distinct projects and backgrounds, our seminars have reinforced our common desire to direct our unique passions toward social betterment. The enthusiasm my fellow researchers have shown not only for their own projects but also those of their peers makes me proud to be a member of this community and keeps me motivated to work hard. While the pandemic has certainly made both completing work and connecting with my fellow Brackenridge Fellows more difficult, keeping tabs on the dynamic efforts of my colleagues—especially other researchers with more nontraditional deliverables—has proven uniquely valuable.
Turning to my cohort specifically, I was struck by some shared thematic qualities underlying many of my peers’ work. Even though they cover everything from the classics to microbiology, my fellow researchers seem to be united in their desire to tackle problems that we take for granted and fail to consider– things such as the physiological effects of vomiting, our changing experiences with love, and more efficient treatments for retinal diseases. Since starting to conduct research on my own, my work has largely concerned macro-oriented questions, seeking to understand sociopolitical trends from a nationwide or movement-wide perspective. After all, as a student in international relations, it’s hard not to take a broad approach to transnational political issues and the context surrounding them. But where my research covers existing problems and strives to counter them through education and advocacy, my cohort has gone a step beyond that in seeking to directly answer the questions which we often forget to ask. For instance, Judy Zhang’s effort to treat peanut allergies is something that I never would have encountered outside of this program, having only considered avoidance as a (now obviously cumbersome) strategy for allergy sufferers. Likewise, Rachael Rosenstein’s investigation into community building among Jewish immigrants, though similar to my work insofar as both of our projects chronicle the development of social organizations, follows a much more intimate and personally affecting community and yields immediate insight into the American immigrant experience as a whole.
As we move further into the summer, I cannot wait to follow up on my cohort members’ progress and see how their projects develop. It’s incredibly refreshing to learn about such grounded topics that I would not have considered otherwise, and this experience will surely push me to be much more practical and forward-thinking in my work going forward.