The Keystone Project: Choose Something Fun!

By Marissa Carty (CAS’22)

The best advice I got from a Kilachand Alumni was to choose a Keystone Project that was fun. The Kilachand Keystone is a unique opportunity to do a year-long project on essentially whatever you want, with funding and advising. Many students choose to use an honors thesis in their major as the Keystone Project. However, for students looking to take on a more creative or interdisciplinary project, the Keystone Pathway is an amazing opportunity to think outside the box and not be bound to the requirements of a thesis. Students have designed playgrounds, written screenplays, written business plans, and so much more. If a traditional research thesis excites you, then go for it! But don’t be afraid to take a chance and do a unique project. I am so grateful that I took a less structured, but extremely rewarding path.

I love creative writing, and it’s been a life-long dream of mine to write a poetry collection. What started as a blurry passion project I inconsistently worked on turned into a beautiful piece of research and artwork. With the help of Professor Preston in the Keystone Proposal Workshop, I developed research questions to guide my writing, connected with two wonderful advisors, planned my goals and timeline, and submitted my proposal. The idea of a senior project can be intimidating, but the Keystone Proposal Workshop helps you work through your ideas slowly with a lot of feedback and guides you through the process to set you up for success.

As a psychology major, I knew I wanted to write my poetry collection about well-being. So often when we talk about mental health, we talk only about mental illness. I decided to focus on flourishing instead. The two questions that guided my research are:

What factors contribute to well-being in young adults and how do they manifest in us today?

How can poetry and psychology inform each other to develop a broader, more holistic definition of well-being?

I conducted a literature review on the psychology of well-being and a contemporary poetry review to study scientific, lyric, and visual forms of poetry. Then, I began to write and submit 5 poems a week to my advisors for revision. I also got to travel to Copenhagen, the city with the highest rates of human flourishing in the world, for my research! My writing centers around themes of love, belonging, mindfulness, spirituality, nature, and therapy. I used 3 main poetic techniques, 1) documentary poetry which uses archives like psychology textbooks or therapy exercises and draws out the poetry in them through lineation or erasure, 2) imagining the story of someone who embodies a research statistic to reinsert the humanity into that statistic, and 3) writing from a purely experiential perspective of well-being that does not rely on scientific data. I currently have a manuscript of 90+ edited poems and a first draft of my artist’s note, which details my process and reflections on the project. 

The best advice I can give you is to think about your interests as early as possible and to choose a project you’re sincerely passionate about, rather than doing what you think you “should” do or what others expect you to do. You may never get an opportunity like the Kilachand Keystone again!

The author in Copenhagen.

What is Keystone? Takeaways from a Current Student’s Perspective

By Anna Natrakul (CAS ’22)

As a Kilachand student, you start hearing about the senior Keystone Project from the time you arrive on campus (or probably even before that). I was always excited about the idea of Keystone but did not truly understand the essence of the project until I started working on my own. As a current senior in the midst of my Keystone journey, here are some takeaway points that I hope will clarify what an amazing opportunity this is, and also get you excited about your own Keystone! 

  • Keystone is indeed a “senior project”, but not in the traditional senseWhile you gain important skills and meet certain expectations (setting a project timeline, justifying your needs for funding, collaborating with faculty, creating a deliverable, etc.), a major theme of Keystone is the agency of the studentYou have complete control in terms of shaping the project, from choosing your “pathway” to the nature of your work. You want to do Honors in your major departmentGreat. You want your deliverable to be a scholarly paper based on your ethnographic fieldwork? Amazing. You change your mind and want to create a book of poetry about your own experiences conducting the fieldwork instead? Also amazing. Although having all these choices can seem daunting at first, making your own decisions is ultimately part of what makes the experience so special. 
  • You get to choose your faculty advisorYou might send cold emails to professors you have never met or approach the principal investigator in the lab that you have worked in for years. And the way that you make this decision is… whatever feels right for your project!
  • You do not have to do a project within your specific major or collegeWhile my own research background habeen grounded in biochemical lab techniques, I chose to do a clinical data analysis project in the BU School of Public Health for my Keystone. I have limited experience in this sphere, but I am extremely interested, and my faculty advisor has given me helpful resources (e.g., relevant literature and tools for learning R) for learning along the way.  
  • You are thoroughly supported during the entire process. The Keystone process is built so that your KHC instructors and peers offer valuable insights along the way. When I was first reaching out to potential faculty advisors, some of the most helpful suggestions came from the peers in my KHC course that semesterThe KHC coursework also gives clear guidance and sets you up for organizational success, so that you do not get hung up on meeting rigid requirements. Instead, you get to focus on developing an impactful body of work that will make you proud! And to help you navigate roadblocks, changes in plans, or whatever questions you might have, you have a full team behind you. 

For more official descriptions and pertinent information, be sure to check out the Keystone Project section of the KHC website!  

My Favorite Classes I’ve Taken at BU

By Marissa Carty (CAS’22)

When it comes to courses, Boston University has just about everything. Here’s a glimpse of some of my favorites!

Public Writing: CAS WR415

This course gives students the opportunity to write for a public audience on topics of their own choosing. I wrote a science communication article on romantic passion, edited a real Wikipedia page on Taylor Swift’s song All Too Well, and wrote and filmed a TED talk-style video on the health benefits of fun and joy. This class was all about impact and real world implications. The professor was wonderful and she even brought in guest speakers for us to learn from! 

Keystone Proposal Workshop: KHC HC451

This course is for Kilachand juniors who are looking to plan out their keystone project. The keystone project can be an honors project in your department (an honors thesis in psychology, the senior engineering design project) or can be a project of your own choosing through Kilachand. Students who pursue a project of their own usually do something more creative and interdisciplinary (like creating a theater production, designing a playground, or starting a podcast). 

I took the Keystone Proposal Workshop with Kilachand Director Dr. Carrie Preston, whose insight was invaluable. She helped me formulate a research question, find an advisor, and create a timeline for my project. (I’m writing a poetry collection on the science of well-being!) This class was also amazing because I got to watch the unique projects of my classmates develop over the course of the semester. Since Kilachand students come from all majors, I learned about an economics project on luxury handbags, a business plan on sustainable fashion, and a documentary on road trips.

Psychology of the Family: CAS PS370

For upperclassmen studying psychology, this course is a must! We learned the science behind marriage, divorce, flirting & dating, child-parent relationships, family dynamics, and overall communication and empathy. If you’re looking to reflect on your own life and role in relationships, this course is an excellent way to both learn the theories and try the strategies in practice. Taking this class has absolutely set me up for more resilient, stable, and healthy relationships. No other life experience inside or outside of college has been so meaningful to me. 

Jazz, Modern, Ballet, Yoga, & more: PDPs

Did you know that Boston University offers exercise classes at FitRec (our gym) that are open to all students? You can take anything from ice skating to tennis to zen meditation to ballroom dancing. Having PDP courses in my schedule ensured that I had time to move my body, and they were a fun break away from my academic courses. I highly recommend them to all BU students!

De-Mystifying the Keystone Project: Deciding on a Topic

By Nikita Sethi (CAS’21)

The Kilachand senior Keystone Project offers students free reign to craft a project in a subject they are interested in with the resources of Kilachand to back them up. For the first two years of my time in the Kilachand Honors College, I had very little idea what I was going to do with this opportunity. I did not have too much experience in my field outside of my classes, and spent most of my free time in choir practice or working. The summer after my sophomore year, I happened to pick up a book called “The Privileged Poor” by Anthony Abraham Jack. In this book, Dr. Jack outlines the ways that the lived experiences of low-income students at elite institutions are affected by their status as low-income. Reading that book, I recognized a lot of the things that I had been struggling with in my first two-years at Boston University. This was research about me, about my experience, and I needed to know more. I rushed down to the Kilachand office and told Eric and Danny all about why this subject was important, and why more people needed to know about it. The two academic advisors laughed a little bit, as they both had graduate degrees in the subject I was just beginning to become interested in, but they both lent me books from their personal libraries that covered the subject. The rush of excitement I felt in researching the issues that had plagued my undergraduate experience was initially just for my own personal research, but by the end of the summer, I realized that I could contribute to the body of work on this subject through my Keystone Project. And that’s just what I did -- I am currently in the last semester of completing my project entitled, “The Lived Experiences of Low-Income Students at Boston University.” I have been using the resources that Kilachand provided to interview low-income students on campus and create a podcast about their experiences. In the end, for me, the correct path for my Keystone Project was to just lean into the thing that I spent the most time thinking about in my four years. If I could give advice to incoming freshmen about the Keystone, it would be to not sweat it too much -- just pay attention to the things you are passionate about.