When I arrived at Duke, I thought research was all serious business. It was publications with titles so complicated you couldn’t understand, content meant to make geniuses scratch their heads, and test tubes performing operations nobody quite had time to explain to me.
I thought it was near impossible for an undergrad to get into social science research, and contemplated applying for a lab just to “get research experience.” I signed up for a research mentor, who graciously met me at the steps of Marketplace, but whose spectacular background and accolades intimidated me.
First-year me was puzzled about Duke Research and directions to the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. Here pictured with my good friend Matthew Lide, Duke 2016.
Back then, research was a grand, intangible, and formidable concept to me. It was one of those things you were supposed get involved with, and have some sort of not-quite-defined penchant for, but I didn’t know how to go about getting plugged in.
Research was Professor Lefkowitz getting recognized in front of thousands for his Nobel Prize. It was the overwhelming catalog of faculty research interests on each departmental web site. Research was cleaning test tubes, transferring liquids with pipettes, looking through a microscope — none of which I was fundamentally interested in.
Second-year me perfected the art of awkward hand gestures while conversing with Joel Kaplan, Vice President for Public Policy at Facebook, after a Duke American Grand Strategy Program luncheon. Photo Credit: Duke Photography
But I’m here to tell you that I was wrong. You see, over these three years, while I’ve enjoyed engaging in research in formal settings, research has also manifested itself in very personal, very approachable ways, and I’d like to share what Duke Research has come to mean to me.
Research is the enthusiastic dash from one white board to another in the midst of a discussion on model selection so passionate you want to spring off the edge of your seat. It’s the long conversation with your roommate about the state of things that goes into the wee hours of the night.
Research is feeling comfortable to share fresh, under-developed ideas with your mentors. It’s texting your professor that wacky analogy you just made up about a theory you learned. Research is the diversity and breadth of guest lectures, seminars, and symposiums open to all.
Third-year me enjoyed free donut breaks as part of research. Here pictured with Kyle Casey, who studies modular forms, TJ Ciesla, who experiments with synthetic biology, and Paul Hoard, who’s always down to finance.
Research is forwarding your friends an email, an article or event about a concept you think would pique their interest. It’s connecting friends who turn out to be intellectual soul-mates.
Research is pondering over a question someone threw at you during thesis seminar that you don’t quite have the answer for yet. Research is a good game of “Explain (blank*) to a five-year-old,” one of my favorite activities with my best friend. (*So far, we’ve done Excel, the Maximum Likelihood Estimator, and Prime numbers.)
Duke’s research is big, but it can be manifested in so many small, beautiful ways. It advances every time we ask a speaker a question or linger in the Gross Chemistry Hall to give that research poster a second glance. Even though these small steps aren’t formalized, they inadvertently make our research community richer, make us richer.
Fourth-year research is sitting next to your chewbacca-esque friend, trying to sit still while sharing thoughts on his parking optimization thesis. Grant Kelly, Duke 2016.
To quote my boss, it’s not just about the glossy publications or the number of citations; it’s also about the people, the process, the ever-renewing excitement.
TL;DR You don’t have to be published in a top journal to contribute to the richness of the Duke research community–just strike up a conversation with a similarly curious soul!
By YunChu Huang, Duke 2016