Interview Essay: Undergraduate Experience and Research
In order to succeed as an undergraduate student one must ask questions and make an honest effort to get involved on campus. This assignment aimed at establishing relationships with not only students, but also graduate teaching assistants, and professors. In addition, throughout this assignment I was able to access scholarly articles, and learn how to find research opportunities that apply to my career interests. While deciding whom I should interview, I thought about my interests as a Biology/Pre-Med major and used this background to guide my process. My first interview was with Meghan Broughton, a Biology/Pre-Med major, and my STEM EE mentor as well. My second interview was conducted with my Psych 1100 graduate teaching assistant, Gabrielle Tiede. Lastly, my third interview was with Psychology professor, Jessica Irons. Through interviewing these women, I was able to gain important information about getting involved in undergraduate research, and succeeding in rigorous courses.
One of the largest components of this assignment was choosing the people to interview. I thought about what I was interested in and whom I would benefit the most from interviewing. In order to find the upperclassman I wanted to interview, I attended the STEM upperclassman panel. Then, I emailed Meghan to ask if we could meet for a few minutes. In order to find the graduate teaching assistant, I immediately thought of my teaching assistant for my Psychology class. Since I started this class, I found great interest in learning about the mind, so I wanted to find out more about her background. In psychology, I participate in REP, which are undergraduate research projects for students to participate in studies. One study I participated in was quite interesting, so I looked up scholarly articles written by the research professor. In the end, I am quite happy with my choices. I was able to explore more information about a class I really enjoy learning about.
First, I interviewed Meghan Broughton, a second year student. By interviewing Meghan, I was able to learn about her experiences so far as a Biology/Pre-Med major. This was extremely helpful because I was able to hear her advice on the classes I would be taking, and also which clubs to get involved in on campus. One of the many things we had in common was that we both got lost at the involvement fair the first time we attended. Since, Ohio State is such a large campus, there are more activities and clubs to get involved in than one can imagine. Meghan is involved in a multitude of organizations on campus. Also, from interviewing Meghan I was able to learn from her experiences as a freshman taking Chemistry and Biology. One vital tip that she gave me was that at a large school, such as Ohio State, it is extremely important to get to know your professors. Throughout this interview, I gained meaningful information about how to succeed as a student. In the end, I am grateful I had the opportunity to bond with my mentor.
My second interview was conducted with my psychology graduate teaching assistant, Gabrielle Tiede. Through interviewing Ms. Tiede, I learned about graduate school and its demanding expectations. Due to the competiveness of graduate school, Ms. Tiede took a year off to participate in a clinical research trial with autistic children. This benefited her in the long run and added to her repertoire as a graduate student. In addition, Ms. Tiede offered useful tips on how to excel in the classroom. A few tips were to be proactive by getting involved in research early, staying organized, and exceeding professor expectations. During this interview, Ms. Tiede was extremely helpful and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about her experiences.
Before interviewing a professor, I was tasked with finding and reading scholarly articles. This task was quite difficult in my opinion. These articles contain language that is tremendously difficult to understand without having prior knowledge of the topic. Therefore, I had to look up several words to gain a general understanding of what was being presented. In order to find these scholarly articles, I used Ohio State’s Scopus database and searched by affiliation to Ohio State, as well as Psychology. In the Scopus database, I located an article and was able to download it onto my computer. These articles provide a major advantage in the medical field because doctors and researchers can read peer reviewed articles in the pursuit of learning more about a medical topic. Overall, I see no disadvantages to scholarly articles due to the fact that the medical field is constantly presenting new information to lead to a greater cause, and even a cure.
Lastly, my professor interview was with Psychology research professor, Jessica Irons. Ms. Irons is originally from Australia and moved here a few years ago. While interviewing Ms. Irons, I was informed about her research project on top down processing and how people control their attention. I recently participated in her research project and was curious to find out more. Also, her PHD thesis was on top down processing and attention control. In today’s news, this study would correspond with research on mobile phones, and how people can multitask and drive. In order to get involved in research similar to these studies, an undergraduate student must start early and look for lab advertisements, email professors, and research ahead of time to have an edge on other applicants. All of these tips will be useful as I look for future research projects.
In final analysis, this interview project was beneficial to learning about undergraduate research and thriving in demanding courses. After completing these interviews I feel more confident in finding an undergraduate research project, and finding organizations on campus that spark my interests. Before completing this assignment I was unsure of what major I wanted to be, but now I know that it is okay to be unsure. There are so many opportunities on campus to aid in making that decision. In the end, I found great interest in Psychology, but I am not sure I would pursue it in the future. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with these women and have vital information now, which I wouldn’t have had without conducting these interviews.
A mark of a good writer, whether fiction, essay, or poetry, is the ability to unflinchingly illuminate the emotional issues that people often try to suppress.
An exemplar is Phillip Lopate, long acclaimed as a fine writer of the widest range: from film reviews to poetry, novels to, most of all, personal essays.
Lopate is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, been a judge for the Pulitzer Prize, and is Professor and Director of the nonfiction writing program at Columbia University. He is my The Eminents interview today.
On the personal essay
Marty Nemko: How would you define your métier, the personal essay?
Phillip Lopate: A personal essay often includes some or a lot of personal confession. That makes the reader feel less lonely in their confusion and darkness. And confession makes you a more trustworthy narrator. But that’s not enough. The essay must also be artistically rendered: You must keep the reader engaged, whether with wit, conflict, mischief, and/or yes, with honesty.
MN: I’d like to write more personal essays. What would you say to me?
PL: In addition to the above, you must read a lot of personal essays—you needn’t reinvent the wheel. In new work, we need to see the shadow, however faint, of previous effort.
Also, most good essays are conversations with yourself, not just your decided thoughts but your dilemmas. Contradictory strands create an essay that’s richly ambivalent.
Oh and have fun writing because it enhances both the writer’s and reader’s experience.
MN: I believe the personal essay is underrated for both writer and reader. It affords the writer great freedom: not only to be confident or admit doubt but to speak personally yet invoke others’ ideas, to be rational and/or emotional. And essayists write at a length that enables them, within a year, to explore a number of topics, whereas in a book, they’ll likely only tackle one. And as a reader, per-minute of my time, I’m getting a helluva lot: practical takeaways, a literary experience, and an intimate experience with the writer.
PL: Yes, the essay is a wonderful medium. I might mention that some writers who longed to be novelists were better as essayists: Sontag, Baldwin, Vidal, Mary McCarthy, Mailer.
On personality and relationships
MN: In your essay, Against Joie de Vivre, you wrote, “There is no harder work I can think of than taking myself off to somewhere pleasant, where I am forced to stay for hours and have fun…I don’t even like water beds.” But why not fan the flames of, as you term it, “hedonistic delusion” rather than, as psychiatrist Irv Yalom writes, “stare into the sun?”
PL: Hedonism can be a rational response to a difficult life. I’m fortunate in being able to find great satisfaction in my work. Give me something interesting to work on, not two margaritas.
MN: If you have an ability, you want to exercise it, not anesthetize it.
MN: I’d guess that, for you, work is especially appealing because, as a writer, you have control: You can play around with your own thoughts and when you find those insufficient, draw upon others’: their wisdom, their humor, their failings.
PL: My other work, teaching, also is satisfying because I can be with people but in controlled circumstances, which aren’t as likely to yield the pain of dealing with family.
MN: But in Against Joie de Vivre, you lament that you can’t consistently focus on the quotidian. Isn’t an admirable definition of the life well-led to maximize your time doing what you’re best at, especially if it’s pro-social?
PL: Honestly, that “lament” was a form of discreet bragging. I really do like to write and when I’m not, I think, “Okay, I’ll be a good citizen now” but fact is, that’s secondary.
MN: The essays you suggested I read in preparation for this interview focused heavily on family, and earlier in this interview you spoke of pain of dealing with family. What do you want to say about family?
PL: Domesticity has been a challenge for me but painful as it’s been, engaging with family has been a school for reducing solipsism and increasing my understanding of people’s different reactions to stress. If someone in my family is getting emotionally bent out of shape, I’ve had to learn to adapt.
MN: Why, instead of their adapting to your self-described hyper-rationality, is it important for you to adapt to their emotionality?
PL: James Baldwin wrote that he wants to be a nice person and a good writer, in that order.
MN: I'd argue they should be in reverse order because being a good writer may result in your being nicer to more people, having a bigger positive impact. Agree?
PL: For most of my life, I wanted broad impact but now, at 72, I’m not so sure that’s always my first priority.
MN: In your essay, The Story of My Father, you describe taciturnity as a privilege. Explain that.
PL: It enabled my father to go into internal exile while remaining in the family’s bosom. Indeed, at times it’s best to shut up. My wife and daughter have accused me of being too silent at breakfast but I don’t want to talk when I don’t have much to say.
MN: In that essay, you focused a lot on your dad's late-in-life dementia. You’re now almost 73 and live a life of the mind. Do you worry at all about dementia?
PL: I do and it bothers me when I can’t, for example, remember a name. I don’t know if it’s pre-senility or whether there are too many names packed in our brains.
MN: Alas, senescence is an inevitability. All we can do is try to strike the balance between graceful acceptance and raging against the dying light. But from having engaged with you in this interview, at the risk of presumptuousness and being patronizing, it’s clear to me that whatever decrement you’ve suffered, your brain remains enviable.
PL: Thank you. I’d like to end by saying that I’ve had an enduring appreciation of psychology and so I’m pleased that this will appear in Psychology Today.
Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia. His newest book, his 8th, is The Best of Marty Nemko.