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Research and Awe

This past month I completed my second Master’s course – a Research Methods class which took us through the paces of literature reviews, conference proposals, peer reviews, paper drafts and concluded with a small class symposium where we each presented our work. I confess, it sounded dry to me when I registered. I was almost dreading it as it all seemed to be so much of what I was already advising my students on. However, I was determined to be positive, so I chose to use it as an exercise to improve my writing. And of course, it was wonderful.

December 16, 2010
 
 

This past month I completed my second Master’s course – a Research Methods class which took us through the paces of literature reviews, conference proposals, peer reviews, paper drafts and concluded with a small class symposium where we each presented our work. I confess, it sounded dry to me when I registered. I was almost dreading it as it all seemed to be so much of what I was already advising my students on. However, I was determined to be positive, so I chose to use it as an exercise to improve my writing. And of course, it was wonderful.

As Graduate Studies Officer, one of my responsibilities is reviewing scholarship applications. One of the amazing things about life is that you just never know when you’re suddenly going to be struck with something unexpectedly fantastic. I had had a fatalistic view of working on scholarships – I was panicked that I would miss some inane detail that would cause my students to miss out on funding due to my inadequacy. It seemed like a mountain of work with a never-ending ocean of minutiae. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Well, OK yes – it is inane. Yes, there are a million details. But, like that Research Methods class, it turned out to be wonderful. Reading each application gives me this amazing thrill. It’s a thrill to discover that there are some genuinely ambitious, brilliant and enthusiastic students out there. It remains a thrill with each new research proposal that I have the unbelievable privilege of reading. Now I have to confess: the Chemistry and Math proposals? Completely over my head. I simply cannot fathom what possible research projects there can be in Math. I had to take grade 12 math twice and then swore off numbers forever. But that’s what makes these scholarship applications even more fascinating. What teacher stirred my BioScience students to love bats? What is it about computers or archives or The Bible that makes other students want to start a career in those areas?

My class symposium taught me about Agri-culture, about the nameless women in Le Morte D’Arthur and maternal theory. Maternal theory. I had never even heard of such a thing. Not being a parent I hadn’t really given motherhood a second thought. But of course there’s theory in that area. How could there not be? And my symposium paper? A feminist analysis of the film Jennifer’s Body. (I must confess to an absolute love of cheesy teen and horror movies). But I wonder – how would Diablo Cody feel if she knew that her film inspired such a paper and presentation? Would she be disappointed that I ultimately concluded that it failed in its task? Or would she be awed that her words were analyzed and presented along-side amazing minds like bell hooks, Chris Weedon and Susan Bordo?

I can’t imagine the humbling and awe-inspiring experience it must be to be a professor and read students’ papers. Even the most dismal work was inspired by something: something that they said while teaching their students. Their words sparked something in each student’s mind which resulted in hours of research and thousands of words. Without the benefit of their knowledge and instruction those students would never have had those thoughts and ideas. I can only imagine how such a feeling could be an intoxicating rush, something that would keep them coming back year after year amidst the inevitable tedium and bureaucracy. It’s almost enough to make me consider carrying on to Doctoral glory…

 

Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada

Deanna England can be reached by email at Deanna.England@insidehighered.com. She is a member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.

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