Becky Mandelbaum

Headshot of Becky Mandelbaum


KU major: English, creative writing, Class of 2013

Current occupation: Editor in Chief, Author

Research mentors while at KU: Mary Klayder

Describe the undergraduate research/creative experience that you had while at KU: My research experience involved traveling to the country's three most popular national parks--Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon--to explore the relationship between tourism and nature. The trip culminated in a project consisting of place-based poems, essays, and short stories.

Q: What do you think was the most important thing you learned while doing undergraduate research? 

A: I learned so much during my research trip and the writing it produced, but perhaps the most important takeaway was how much place, immersion, and experience can influence creative output. This trip taught me that travel produces new ways of seeing and feeling that I simply can't recreate in stasis. The trip also inspired me to continue exploring national parks. After graduating, I worked at three national parks--Grand Teton, Mount Rainier, and North Cascades National Park. Each one has inspired me in a different way and expanded the ways I think about America's natural landscapes and the relationship between the commodification and protection of public lands.


Q: What advice do you have for undergraduates who might be interested in doing research or creative scholarship?

A: Let yourself be uncomfortable. Try new things. Ask questions even if you're unsure whether you can answer them. Find whatever obsesses you and follow it.


Q: Do you use any of the skills or perspectives gained doing research in your current occupation?  How so?

A: Yes. I'm still a writer and often write about place. I've learned to write as much as I can while immersed in a new environment, for it's likely to produce more interesting work than if I try to write about an experience after the fact.


Q: Many undergraduate researchers are making decisions about what to do after they graduate from KU. Having been in those shoes, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then? Do you have any advice?

A: My advice would be to pursue what you love, not what feels most comfortable. The worst thing one can do is follow a trajectory because it's safe, because people are telling you to do it, or because you're good at it. I know a lot of people who followed this path and now, only five or so years later, these people are burnt out and looking for ways to redirect their professional life, an endeavor that becomes more and more difficult the longer you're in a given industry. If you follow what you love, you'll always be on the right path. Even if it's not what you're best at, or what makes the most money or offers the most prestige, you'll at least feel intellectually or creatively satisfied.