My Joyful Brackenridge

Last spring in class one day my professor and now faculty mentor Dr. Gregor Thum said “No good work can be done without joy”. It seemed like an offhand comment, but something about it was clearly brilliant. I wrote it down on a post-it note and quickly added it to the collection of quotes that hang above my desk. While I initially liked the sentiment, it took this whole summer of research to truly understand its meaning. 

Coming off a semester of constant migraines that led me to struggle with completing assignments and even taking a G grade in more than one class, I entered the Brackenridge with mixed feelings. While I was excited to have been awarded a fellowship, and I knew my research interested me, my primary feeling was fear. I feared I wouldn’t be able to complete the work, I feared I would disappoint a mentor I respected, I feared that I would flounder and produce work of which I was ashamed. 

As the summer got started, this fear manifested in avoiding my research. A simple assignment to update my proposal and sharpen my research question took me weeks. Each time I turned to my computer I felt afraid and overwhelmed by either my seemingly poor writing skills or un-analytical mind. 

Around this time an old acquaintance reached out to me who was conducting similar research and had completed the Brackenridge last year. He asked to meet. When we did, he gave me valuable advice about archives and organizations I should reach out to, but most importantly reminded me to pursue subjects and sources I enjoyed. Soon I met with my faculty mentor again, and while I felt uncomfortable by how much I was struggling to produce that updated proposal, talking to him about my project reminded me how cool I had found the topic in the first place.

At this point, I realized if I wanted to succeed this summer, or even have a chance of enjoying it, I needed to view my project as a fun subject matter to explore, rather than a test of my intellectual worthiness. I began searching out cool cafes in Pittsburgh to do work in, and I played loud music while I took notes on source material. I took any opportunity for fun in connection to my research. 

While I definitely needed these bits of frivolity to get going again, soon picking up a new book from Hillman or getting an email back from someone at the Archives was all the stimulus I needed to feel excited. I allowed myself to start taking notes on what I found interesting rather than basic facts, and began to confidently reconsider aspects of my analysis or research questions. I was finding joy in my research, and lo and behold, I finally felt I was producing good work. 

Without the Brackenridge fellowship, I have no idea how I would be entering this next semester of college or stepping forward in my professional development. The Brackenridge fellowship design gave me the freedom to initially avoid my work, and then build my own structure. It let me fail privately and then fall back on the support of classmates, workshops and mentors to remind me of the joy of research and the drive to better myself. The Brackenridge gave me the opportunity and space to explore Pittsburgh, visit the Archives, and interview important people in the community. Now I step into the fall semester excited again, rather than scared, to do work and learn. I hope to expand on my project and build on the relationships and lessons I learned this summer.  The Brackenridge reminded me to have fun with my work, and most importantly taught me that no good work can be done without joy.

My Feline Research Companion

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