For this blog post, I’d like to discuss research in the social sciences: both why I recommend it, and some of the unique benefits and challenges.
Even if you don’t plan on going to graduate school, undergraduate research provides a unique opportunity to work on issues of personal interest under the mentorship of an expert in the field. It’s also versatile: it can be done during the semester or over the summer, largely individually or as part of a much larger group, and as a way to learn about a topic or a capstone to one’s studies.
Research can also provide a chance to explore areas not covered in traditional coursework. For example, last summer I had the chance to conduct research on how the public involvement process, and local opposition, increase the cost of infrastructure projects. This is something I’ve long been interested in, but would have had little chance to explore in my coursework as an Economics and Mathematics major. This also offered me the chance to meet faculty in the Political Science department, and exposed me to another intellectual universe. Involvement in research was an intellectual springboard for me: it clarified my interests and increased my own confidence.
While social science research can be uniquely rewarding and impactful, there are some unique challenges. Compared to the natural sciences, it can be harder to find an existing project to attach oneself.
This is where Kilachand can make a difference. The close relationships forged with faculty–particularly through the first-year seminars–can provide a leg up in research, and in everything else.
For just barely being a freshman in high school in August of 2015, moving my sister into Kilachand Hall for her first semester of college was an eye-opening experience for me. As cliché as it may sound, BU felt like home to me from that day on. Reflecting back on that moment as I finish my second semester of sophomore year, I can’t help but think about how significantly KHC has continued to impact myself and my family. My sister Charlotte graduated in 2019—the same year I started at BU—from both KHC and the College of Engineering with a degree in mechanical engineering. Now a PhD candidate at Princeton University, I thought I would compare and contrast our experiences as two very different KHC students.
1. What was/is your experience like in KHC?
Charlotte: KHC was my break from a rigorous STEM schedule in mechanical engineering. In my major studies, every question had an answer, neatly binarizing my work into “right” or “wrong.” KHC classes gave me a chance to discuss bigger, more conceptual problems with my friends and peers, each with their own expertise or bias. We examined things critically and explored the moral or ethical shades of gray that exist in real world problems. While this might not be as satisfying as having a clearly defined solution to whatever problem was at hand, I found these conversations, and the community that fostered them, so fulfilling.
Kadie: For me, as a political science student, KHC offers a more intimate space outside of a lecture hall surrounded by hundreds of other students. Typically where my non-KHC courses fail in leaving much room for discussion or analysis, my KHC courses make up for. I thoroughly enjoy discussing our curriculum through my specific policy/political centered lens while simultaneously hearing analysis from my peers through their differing major and minor focuses. My KHC classes have been the place where I really develop my opinions on a number of academic and social topics which I can bring to my other classes. Unlike my sister, who experienced very little interdisciplinary overlap, the convergence of my non-KHC and KHC courses have both focused and broadened my thinking as a student.
2. How did you meet friends when starting at KHC?
C: Honestly, mostly from classes and luck! I also did the tried and true method of leaving my door open for the first week or so of freshman year which let me meet my hallmates, as well as talking to them after our floor meetings hosted by our RA. Truly, though, our discussions in KHC studio classes let me talk to and get to know my classmates, and then that branched off into hanging out at the dining hall or the 9th floor together! Then I met their roommates and their friends, then their roommate’s friends, and on and on until finally I’d met my entire class! I met my best friend and future roommate at KHC just by hearing my other friends mention that she had great notes for our chemistry class and so we headed to the 9th floor to see them. You never really know how or why you’ll meet your people, but KHC let me meet everyone in the program quickly so I could find them easier!
K: Similar to my sister, the spider-web of existing KHC student relationships is how I met a lot of my class. As daunting as it was to transition from knowing most people in my high school to knowing no one entering college, putting yourself out there is the best advice I can give on making friends. My roommates and I did a lot of knocking on other people’s doors in KHC just to say hi and introduce ourselves during the first few weeks. From these initial meetings it was much easier to recognize people in classes and get to know them better. My current roommate and I met while walking from KHC to Nickerson Field for Splash; both being political science students we decided to walk around the tables together and through conversation realized we had classes together! From that point on we started sitting next to each other in classes, walking back to KHC after, and hanging on the weekends in our dorm rooms. It truly only takes making one connection to get to know everyone in KHC!
3. Where did you prefer studying within KHC? Are you a 9th floor girl or common room girl?
C: Absolutely the 9th floor. I would spend entire evenings up there with a group of friends hanging out under the guise of working. I actually had to study in my room to get any actual work done because the 9th floor was really my favorite spot to socialize.
K: I am also team 9th floor. The 9th floor is great if you need a change of scenery while studying or doing work and also, of course, is a great place to socialize and get away from studying or doing work. It was also great for getting help from KHC classmates on assignments and topics.
4. What was your favorite KHC class you took? Who was it with?
C: It’d have to be a tie between my freshman year seminars — Spaces of Art with Professor Dana Clancy (a wonderful class on art and curation in contemporary museums, which meant our classrooms were the great museums of Boston! Weekly trips out to the ICA, MFA, ISG, and Harvard Art were an incredible way to get to know my classmates and the city) or Broken Bones, Buried Bodies: Forensic Anthropology and Human Rights with Dr. Jonathan Bethard (now working at USF). Each allowed open-format discussion between students, hands on exploration of the course’s materials, all with the insight and guidance from some of the most thoughtful and passionate teachers I’ve ever had.
K: I would also have to say my favorite course was the forensic anthropology class offered in my freshman year of study called Fractured Lives and Bodies: Forensic Anthropology, Disasters, and Human Rights with Professor Sean Tallman—an updated version of the exact course my sister took four years before. This class was quite a step outside my comfort zone and truly allowed me to get a new understanding of a topic I most likely would never have learned about if not for KHC.
5. Since graduating from KHC what have you taken with you from the program?
C: The ability to care and critically think about a variety of topics! The work we did examining ethics across disciplines - public health, history, ecology, engineering, literature - impacts and inspires the way that I navigate the world and academia. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to participate in such illuminating, sometimes infuriating, always exciting discussions over the course of my studies in KHC. From all of that work in presenting our own ideas as well as listening and absorbing those brought by other students or scholars, I feel as though I’m always ready, willing, and excited to talk with basically anyone about basically anything. In graduate school, your studies can become so hyper-individualized that it can be hard to break back into the big wide world of reality. I like to think that the work I did while in the KHC program helps keep me more well-rounded (academically and on the whole) than I would have been otherwise.