Now that a few weeks have passed since the start of the semester, there’s no denying it: it’s time to get to work. For students interested in learning about research and creative engagement, the discovery process can feel daunting. For students engaging in independent research and creative projects, those deadlines that once loomed far in the distance are suddenly a bit too close for comfort.
Rather than feeling stressed by the problem-solving, discovery and exploration that comes with research projects, embrace it! Part of the research experience is learning to navigate the various challenges, slip-ups and unexpected roadblocks that come your way. You’ll be that more prepared to handle whatever post-grad life throws at you after having executed your own project start to finish. And campus offices like The SOURCE are here to support you.
But of course, that thought doesn’t do much for you now while you’re in the middle of trying to figure out a thousand things at once. Hopefully, these do’s and don’ts will help with whatever stage of your project you’re in.
DO: Draw on the various talents and interests you have outside of your field of study.
Independent projects are your chance to think outside the box and break away from the day-to-day of being a student in your major. Are you an engineering student with a passion for circus activities, or an English student with a knack for yodeling? Give your brain a break from doing the same types of academic exercises and make your project into something you’ll WANT to work on by indulging that side of yourself that’s itching to explore a different passion.
DON’T: Try to combine every piece of knowledge you’ve ever picked up into one project.
As liberating as it can be to create your own guidelines, don’t take on more than you can handle. At the end of the day, you have to be able to wrap your head around your work to help the project realize its potential. Make life easier for yourself, and the people that are part of your project’s intended audience, by doing your best to keep it simple.
DO: Take advantage of the various resources on and around campus.
Did you know there are subject librarians at SU that can point you in the right direction for information and materials in virtually any field of study? They’re here to help you, and so are your advisers, department heads and other faculty in your field. They’ve been in your shoes before, so picking their brains if you’re stuck could really give you some clarity.
DON’T: Expect any of these people to do your project for you.
In other words, don’t send an email to an advisor or subject librarian with your entire research question or creative goal and hope that all the answers you need will magically appear in your inbox. Have a plan ready before you ask for help. What are you seeking from this person or source? Why? Where will it tie into the other information you have or are hoping to have? Be able to provide at least preliminary answers to these questions — you’ll seem more prepared, even if you’re not entirely sure yourself.
DO: Hold yourself accountable.
With an independent project, it’s way too easy to fall behind on a deadline you gave yourself and think, “Oh, that’s okay, I’ll just get to it later since this isn’t for a class.” Treat the project like it’s its own class, and remind yourself that those deadlines weren’t random when you set them.
DON’T: Forget to give yourself a brain break.
It’s just as important to step back from your project sometimes as it is to keep plugging away at it. Looking at the project with fresh eyes in a few hours, or even a few days, might help you catch something you hadn’t noticed before, or come up with a new approach. So yes, reading a good book for a couple hours may actually help you in the long run.
Want to know more about research and what it all means? Do you have questions or concerns about your project that you still need answers to? Drop by The SOURCE on the second floor of Bird Library, and we’d be happy to help.
Written by Colleen Ferguson ‘19, S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, The SOURCE Student Research Mentor