The Endless Opportunities of Working Outside the Box

Just a few weeks into the summer, I can already tell I can learn a great deal from my peers in my cohort and the Brackenridge fellowship as a whole. With my project focusing on manifestations of culture, I am always looking for new, unique ways to view old, established destinations. I recognize that my own background and experience can only take me so far, so I hope to learn how to see connections in my research where I previously could not. There is no singular way to examine a culture, and the other recipients are studying topics such as medicine and empathy in politics, bringing with them ways of interpreting a situation which I could never achieve on my own, helping me spot patterns across time I might otherwise have missed. The most important aspect of my chosen subject is the fact that all these varied disciplines can make a relevant and useful contribution to my own study habits, as is inherent in the all-encompassing nature of a country’s culture.

A similarity I noticed with many of the other projects is the presence of a human element, even where the surface-level subject matter appears to be completely based in hard facts. Many of these projects will make use of quantitative data and play to the strengths of a STEM-related field, but they all go a step further and ask what the numbers actually mean for the people affected, which is right in line with the human element I hope to capture in my own research. The biggest difference I can notice is along the same lines, as my own research is very focused in qualitative data. Of course, there are plenty of projects which also use this kind of data, but I found it interesting to see the ways in which my peers are branching off into an interdisciplinary pursuit from their core subject.

A particularly interesting project to me was that of Kalan McDonald, who’s researching the impact of Old and Middle English poetics on modern fantasy. Before even reading the full description of the research, I could tell we were of similar minds when he discussed the human tendency of gravitating towards storytelling. My own project aims to develop a narrative based on my findings, so I found it very intriguing that Kalan would be looking, in a sense, at the story of storytelling and how the language used has evolved. I look forward to seeing where the project goes in the coming weeks.

As mentioned above, the biggest benefit of working with people across disciplines would be the unique perspectives they can bring. Being so entrenched in passion can give a person tunnel vision, and this diverse group of researchers will help ensure no single person is restricting themselves too much unintentionally. On the other hand, this diversity does bring an obstacle in the sense that a researcher may intimately understand their own subject at a basic level, and there is a necessary adjustment when communicating to others in different fields. It is necessary to ensure one does not fall in the trap of making too many assumptions of what the typical person might understand about their subject, resulting in an audience who is completely lost.

I feel very thankful to be working alongside this group of scholars, and I know we will all help each other throughout the summer. Looking forward to it!

Ari Stein

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