Hannah Holborn Research Seminar – aka Researching 101

Published by Nath on


So in the beginning of this week, my college held a Research Seminar for all the Hannah Holborn Fellows 2017.

Just as a side note, my summer started – aka handed in my last paper – last Friday (5/12). On Sunday (14/5) I had to move to my “summer dorm”, under a baking sun and in a very warm onesie. You can assume all I wanted to do after moving was showering, but to complete my sad story, I had all my towels and toiletries stolen in the moving process. So Sunday night, after showering with a conditioner sample, the last thing I wanted to do was to read those 3 long texts for the first Seminar day. After procrastinating as much as I could, I finally did my readings… (Ok, one reading).

Back to track. The seminar lasted 3 days. We had 3 professors giving us lectures, a talk with the librarians, a meditation session and meetings with 2 graduate students (which will mentor us throughout the whole process). We are 10 fellows, but only 6 could attend the seminar.

But Nathalia, why are you saying all this sh*? Well, cause I wanted to share a little bit of all I’ve learned during the seminar – basically a lot of what I had learned after 3 years writing research papers in class but with cooler names.

Six Lessons:

1. “Don’t be a pretentious douche:

It is clear that Academia has some expectations about our writing. Every area of knowledge has its own specific terms, and it is ok to use them. The problem is when the person wants to show how ‘badass’ they are in an area, filling their texts with overly complicated words in a way you can’t even begin to understand what they mean. Have you ever read a text and ended up like this?

@Me + some political theory texts

How about we avoid that? ?

2. Do you have to write a thesis/a research paper/a research project and don’t even know where to start?

Try to think about the text you have to write as a conversation. Quoting Burke (1941) AND PLEASE pretend that in this case you are a sociable person:

Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance . However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.

In this sense, just imagine… What are the conversations I am interested in? What can I add to the conversation I just joined? What did some people said before me so I don’t repeat the same point someone literally just made? You know? Just like people should do in comments on facebook but no one actually does. Actually, just take this advice for life.

3. Start small, but start writing:

Little strokes fell great oaks. Writing – mainly a long duration and/or unsupervised project – is complicated. One of the seminar propositions was:

  • Write before reading;
  • Try to write at the same time every day (each person has a place/time that works better for them)
  • Pause;
  • Only then read;
  • Once you are done, prepare the things for the next day;

But how do we write before reading? Well, for the first day you can do a list of everything you think you must know before answering your research question. You can create an inventory of all the people that have talked about your topic. Writing here refers to activity that don’t require a heavy thinking… For the next day, write based on your reading notes from the previous day. The key here is consistency and doing very small tasks.

4. If there is an event in your college with food, go:

Spoiler, I love eating so much that I could be considered a Taurus. But I think this is an important point for different reasons. At least in Bryn Mawr, events with food are usually more informal. In this context, you meet new people and rediscover some you thought you kinda knew. People are EXTREMELY important in your researching process. Especially people that can become your peer-reviewers and give you some insight in your writing (especially about point 1). They don’t have to be from the same area you are, though it is recommended to have at least one person that can fully understand your point and call you out when you are flat wrong. TL;DR: Save Money by going to free food events and find yourself a peer reviewer!

5. Getting it wrong is recommended:

One of the main problems with academic researchers today is the fear of being wrong. This is a big problem because it affects the type of the questions people ask in their researches. People have so much fear of being wrong that some of the questions being asked are precisely questions in which it is impossible to be wrong: (Ex. Optimization of researches previously developed, 20th direct application of a model that people know it will work in that specific case). Of course, all research has its value – and I’m not trying to degrade anyone’s research. But if we keep in mind the factor conversation: from all the perspectives I can add to this conversation, is [doing this] what I want to do?

6. Pay attention to your towels/toiletries:

Disney has a princess of ice, of snow, but unfortunately, they haven’t created the sweat princess. Having your stuff stolen when you need it the most sucks. @Disney if you create the sweat princess, I will totally be down to be her voice – I kinda have experience on dealing with it.

 Texts read for the Seminar:

Burke (1941) – Conversation

Wilkinson – Scholarship as a Conversation

Peter Stallybrass (2007) – Against Thinking

Wright Mills – On Intellectual Craftsmanship (Part of the book The Sociological Imagination)

Andrew Abbot – Chapter Seven: Ideas and Puzzles (Part of the book Methods of Discovery)

Howard S. Becker – Tricks of the Trade

Anne Lamott – Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life



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