Every time I would attend some sort of informational session about USC during my senior year of high school, the speakers would talk about SOAR and SURF. I had heard and understood that research was supposed to be a big part of the college experience, and USC would apparently give me a grant in order to do it. The issue was: how was I supposed to figure out what to research, and even more so, how to put together a research proposal? I had no plans to be a science major, so it’s not like I could work in a chemistry lab or something, and the only other type of research that came to my mind was either digging in the dirt for ancient artifacts or doing a bunch of behavioral surveys to figure out trippy things about the way people think.
Now, I prefer having clean finger nails, so digging in the dirt was out of the question. And as far as conducting surveys and simulations to figure out ways people think, this idea seemed somewhat interesting, but I didn’t really have natural propensity or curiosity or even knowledge enough to begin designing my own psychological research question. So, I kept on listening to people talk about this great SOAR and SURF and hoped that, as I progressed through college, I would come up with some brilliant research question that I could pursue.
My complacency was interrupted first semester freshman year, however, at a presentation specially for Dornsife Scholars. International Relations Professor Steve Lamy talked about a SOAR and SURF Board that existed online, where faculty members would list their research projects and indicate whether they were open to undergraduate involvement. Sure enough, I checked out this board and was able to find a research project that International Relations Professor Carol Wise was working on that I was genuinely interested in.
I arranged a meeting with Professor Wise, and now, over a year later, I can confidently say that I have never again doubted the potential for research within social sciences such as Economics and International Relations. I have been working as a research assistant for Professor Wise since my freshman year, and through this process have learned so much about the scope of my classroom knowledge and the process of how research works. In addition, I am now lucky enough to be able to turn to Professor Wise as a mentor and gain her guidance in mapping out my educational and career path. And, of course, the multiple research grants that I have received are just the icing on the cake.
When I reflect upon this experience as a whole, however, I realize that the biggest lesson I learned through doing research was to not be afraid to inquire more about things which I don’t fully understand. USC is filled with so many different opportunities and avenues and resources that it is easy to become intimidated or even overwhlemed, but as I found out, help and clarification is always available. All I had to do was ask, and I am so glad that I did.