Mentor Spotlight | February 2015
Describe your work in a few sentences that we can all understand: One of my research topics pertinent to undergraduate research concerns communities in distress after experiencing a severe environmental disaster. I am interested in finding out how people cope with the disaster, what they do to improve the situation, and what they can do in the future.
Q: How did you first get interested in doing research/creative work?
A: I got interested in research in college when I started working for a school newspaper. I did interviews with a variety of people and ran investigative reports. Since then, observations and interviews have become my main research methods.
Q: What do students in your discipline learn by doing research that they wouldn’t learn by just taking classes?
A: As a human geographer, field work is highly valued. Instead of adhering to classroom settings only, geographers take you out, explore different places, and engage people who live in these places. Seeing these places and listening to what locals have to say forces us to use all the senses, knowledge, and emotions we have. In return, some of us expand our understanding of others and adjust our perceptions.
Q: What do you find to be the most exciting part of doing research/creative work? What makes this line of work meaningful and interesting to you?
A: It is most exciting when you begin to understand what is really going on in these communities and feel that you are communicating with them. It is rewarding to know that your findings from research can contribute to advancing your field and can generate alternate solutions to the same or similar problems.
Q: What advice do you have for undergraduates interested in doing research in your field?
A: Take classes that offer some research experience in the form of a research paper or research methods. Then give yourself time to develop these skills.
Q: For many students, doing research is the first time they have done work that routinely involves setbacks and the need to troubleshoot problems. Can you tell us about a time that your research didn’t go as expected? Have you developed any tricks or habits that help you to stay resilient in the face of obstacles?
A: Well, one has to lose any expectations they have of themselves or others while doing research. If you are able to do it, then you can embrace failures and be flexible. This is a must for research that is field work-driven and qualitative. The field is made up of people, including students themselves, and is thus dynamic and unexpected. If you have a rigid personality, this type of research may not be for you. Persistence is another wonderful quality to have. Even if you do not understand everything, you go on. For example, one undergraduate student stayed on course in spite of all the challenges during and after field work, and now she has a co-authored paper with me in a highly reputable academic journal.
Q: How do you spend your time outside of work?
A: Cooking and dancing!