Yesterday afternoon I took my seat in a classroom on the first floor of Harvey Hall. Preparing for our mini-project presentations, I set up my laptop, glancing around the room. It occurred to me that I was sharing a space with ten people who had been complete strangers just twelve days prior. In less than two weeks, numerous awkward exchanges of pleasantries, group meals, and several brief explosions of academic excitement (geek-outs, if I may) transformed this collection of people into a group of friends and collaborators, eager to share their own work and provide critiques and suggestions to the work of others.
Under the direction of Dr. Nels Paulson, my research partner Clare Salerno and I presented a two-fold mini-project dealing specifically with Social Network Analysis (SNA) and survey design. Regarding SNA, Clare and I developed a small survey, which we administered to 110 voluntary respondents via Facebook. We then coded the data using Excel, analyzed it using SPSS, and created a visual representation using Kumu. This part of the mini-project gave us an in-depth and hands-on introduction to the process of and methods used in SNA.
After completing the SNA part of the mini-project, our sociology team of three shifted its focus to survey design. Beginning with an empty Google doc as a blank canvas, our team painted many pages with questions about farmland acreage, propinquity, and place-based belongingness. We diligently cut the multitude of questions down into a manageable two pages (printed double sided), into four sections about demographic, land, and rental agreement information as well as questions about conservation practices and community and social capital.
By my estimation, the aim of the mini-projects was to introduce the interns to the existing literature in our substantive fields and to acquaint us with the software programs we will use for the duration of the REU. Our mini-project did just that.
Apart from the academic skills I have acquired, I have also learned a few valuable lessons about myself. Collaborating with such a quality research partner as Clare Salerno has taught me to more greatly appreciate (and enjoy!) group work. Working with someone as patient and kind as Clare makes me look forward to collaborating with other dedicated students in the future. Perhaps equally importantly, these two weeks of work have also taught me to pace myself with my work and to make time for myself. As a strong type-A personality, it is very much in my nature to power through one task after another, aiming for perfection and forgetting to pencil in time for leisure. The time I have taken for myself these past two weeks has invigorated my enthusiasm for the research process even further, creating space for me to look forward to the tasks ahead and allowing me time to rejuvenate from the tasks previous.
Moving forward, I anticipate a continuation of this exceptional research experience and I look forward to applying the skills learned in our mini-projects. The tools and skills we have accrued in the past week, as an entire REU research team, are impressive. I look forward to meeting with the group as a whole again, six weeks from now, for a presentation of our cumulative research endeavors.