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Finding My Voice as a Researcher

November 26, 2018
Madison Weisend ’20 Environmental Studies and Political Science
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    Madison Weisend '20

I boarded the flight to go to the University at Buffalo, my laptop in my bag, filled with notes and photos that detail my field research. I was accepted into the University’s first annual Conference on South Asian Studies, an opportunity for which I was incredibly grateful and incredibly nervous. I would be presenting on my field research that was conducted during my time abroad in Northwest India. The project was focused in a village in the Thar Desert where I interviewed villagers about their experience living in a water scarce environment. Conducting the research was a daunting task, but sharing it somehow seemed to be even more frightening.

The work that I brought to present was intriguing and scientifically sound, but I managed to convince myself that it would be inadequate when compared with the other work being presented. Students would be traveling from across the country from Universities such as UC Berkeley and The Ohio State University. According to the agenda that was previously sent out, topics would range in focus from queer representation in Hindi films, to Linguistics of Women’s’ Reproductive Health. I spent the night before standing in front of a TV monitor until 11:30pm practicing my presentation for my roommates. They gave excellent feedback and reassured me that no matter the situation, my project would stand out as both professional and passionate. The next morning, I packed my brightly colored Indian blazer and made the trek to JFK.

I arrived at the conference and met my fellow presenters at a dinner hosted by the University. I somehow expected them all to be tightly wound professionals, but in fact, they were nothing but human. They too seemed to be a bundle of nerves, but we all quickly became friends throughout the course of the meal. Many of them had also recently come back from India, which was a great comfort and gave way to some valuable and reflective conversations about our experience there. My vision of an intimidating group of undergraduate researchers was quickly unraveled, and I was put at ease knowing we were all on the same playing field. The next day, we all met in the conference hall, and sat back to listen to what each of us had accomplished. Each student gave interesting insight to a region within South Asia, and we were all applauded by the professors and local experts who had come to observe.

The word “research” is filled with daunting connotations that weigh heavily and scare most undergraduates from pursuing research opportunities. Research does require a lot of hard work and dedication, but in no way should it be frightening to students. My research plan was derailed for many reasons, and I often am very critical of the project, but my data was still quality, and allowed for a beautiful project to come to fruition. I am so proud that I was able to face my fear of both conducting field research and taking the next step to present it. There are so many opportunities to show yourself to the scientific community, and there is no reason to fear where you rightfully belong.