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How to Begin to Approach your Humanities & Social Science Research


Sherman Fairchild Physical Sciences Center

Since coming to college, I knew that I wanted to write an honors thesis. I knew I wanted to dive into research that pertained to my interests. Everyone who knows me knows these things to be true: I love cats, I hate the cold, and I am not a STEM person in any way. The idea I had of what research was involved being in a lab testing different things. Research for the humanities, social sciences, and humanistic social sciences looks a lot different. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lack of emphasis on this type of research, so it can seem difficult to know where to start. 

One of the first tasks in research is deciding what to research in the first place! When I was initially thinking of potential ideas my view was too broad. Growing up, my mom used to tell me this saying in Spanish “te quieres comer al mundo entero de una cucharada” (you want to eat the whole world in one spoonful). It truly felt like this when I was thinking of what I could research. I wanted to do everything! So, instead of looking outwards, I looked in. What was important to me? I turned my eyes back home to my community, and felt as if I had finally found something that was not only interesting, it was important and could help my community. Find your purpose as to why you want to research, and then choose a topic that best fits your purpose at this time.

 After I chose what it was that I wanted to research, I began meeting with a few professors to bounce of ideas about my research goals. I cannot begin to stress enough just how important faculty are in this process. Sometimes finding that set of advisors can be difficult, but once you do there’s nothing like it. Try to work with professors who care about you and your work. Professors live very busy lives, so it says a lot when they are willing to meet with you outside office hours to discuss your research. Currently I am working with Professors Pamela Voekel, Matt Garcia and Jorge Cuellar. I am still in the very early stages of my research, but they have been instrumental in helping me decide which avenues of my topic I want to explore as well as suggest valuable readings. Now, with that many people on board it can be difficult balancing that many ideas and suggestions. At the end of the day, this research is your project. You are going to be the one to take the decisions, so remember to listen to your own voice as well. That being said, do not be afraid to reach out to multiple professors. 

Build up your support system. In a conversation I had with one of my professors I expressed how much pressure I put on myself to this well, to which they said to me “don’t worry, you have a group of people around you that won’t let you fail”. One of the aspects of research that does not get emphasized enough is finding that strong support system. In this group are faculty, but also friends, family, and staff members. Surround yourself with people who value your work, and who will remind you how much you actually like what you do when those blue days come. That group of people has been one of the greatest support for me, and I know I can count on them in the future as I continue my research.