Alumni Spotlight | October 2017
KU major: Public Affairs and Administration, class of 2016
Current occupation: PhD Student at University of Florida
Research mentor while at KU: Shannon Portillo
Describe the undergraduate research experience that you had while at KU:
A: Getting involved with research was best decision I made as an undergraduate at the University of Kansas. It connected me with fellow undergraduates who were interested in big questions, graduate students who were learning how to find the answers to those questions, and phenomenal faculty members who were eager to share research endeavors with students. Further, it helped me discover my love for research and thus shaped my path forward to my Ph.D program. Research at KU was exciting and eye-opening, and the networks it created will continue to be fundamental for years to come.
Q: What do you think was the most important thing you learned while doing undergraduate research?
A: I learned that self-doubt is normal, that asking questions is critical, that networking with others and building a tribe upon which you can call at any time is invaluable, and that research is extremely stimulating, ever-challenging, and my total passion.
Q: What advice do you have for undergraduates who might be interested in doing research or creative scholarship?
A: DO IT. Find a mentor with whom you connect really well and pursue the answers to a question that is really captivating to you in some way. Also, know that setbacks are normal, no question is dumb, and no number of emails filled with questions is too many. Finally, when you have some answers (even if preliminary), get out of your comfort zone and share those with others in some form of presentation. The more you share it, the more comfortable you'll get, and the more opportunities you'll get for valuable feedback from others.
Q: Do you use any of the skills or perspectives gained doing research in your current occupation? How so?
A: I use everything I learned from KU undergraduate research in pursuing my Ph.D in political science at the University of Florida. I continue to garner support from my network of mentors and fellow scholars, and overall, doing research at the undergraduate level laid an important groundwork for me to build on at this point.
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: Thinking about what to do post-graduation can be a time of tumult. From deciding whether to work or apply for graduate school (or do one of a million other things), decisions do not come easy. I chose to apply for Ph.D programs because of my passion for research, but that decision was just the beginning. Applying to graduate school is a strenuous process and waiting for rejection/acceptance letters is nothing short of nerve wracking. Rejection hurts and acceptances bring a wonderfully tough decision-making process. Through it all, make time for self care, talk about it often with friends in similar positions and mentors, and know that the phase of the unknown is temporary. Don't take rejection personally, weigh all factors in making your more permanent future decisions, and listen to your gut instincts, too. Good luck, and have fun. Life at KU is incredible, and so is life beyond KU!