Pedagogy and Poutine
By Peter Cates, junior CHP student in English
Many people are surprised to learn about the extensive opportunities to pursue research in the humanities as an undergraduate student at UT. It can be difficult to find the right professor and the right research project, but conducting research in your field gives insight into the tangible effects a humanities degree can have, which is important and inspiring as we work toward a degree.
I’m a student in the English department, and I didn’t know those opportunities existed until I learned from one of my fellow honors students that humanities departments offer undergraduate research assistant positions. So I approached one of my favorite professors to ask if she had a place for an assistant in her current research project, and now, over a year later, I’m incredibly glad I did.
In the spring semester of 2016, I worked as Dr. Lisa King’s research assistant on a project regarding Native American burial mounds in Tennessee. My role mainly consisted of reading and annotating relevant scholarly and legal works that would ultimately contribute to her project; we also did extensive on-site research visiting burial mounds and documenting their status.
Throughout my research, Dr. King had me prioritize a resulting stand-alone project on top of my work for her that I could call my own. That stand-alone project was ultimately accepted at the September 2016 Cultural Rhetorics conference at Michigan State University, where we presented on the same panel discussing indigenous rhetorical spaces. I was the only undergraduate accepted to present at the conference alongside master’s and PhD candidates as well as professionals in the field, which I attribute to Dr. King’s ability as a mentor.
My research assistant position was a catalyst to the research I now do, which I am turning into my honors thesis project.
At the beginning of the fall semester of 2016, I began an independent study on the effects of education policy on indigenous communities in Canada. My goal was to go to Quebec to do research on the ground and conduct interviews with educators working in and around indigenous communities. To do so, I had to successfully apply for approval from the university’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) after certification training in human subject research, which ended up consuming most of the time in my independent study course. My IRB application was approved with only a few weeks to spare before my trip over winter break. Through the Chancellor’s Honors Program, I received a research grant which allowed to me to travel abroad to accomplish my research.
For eight days at the beginning of January of this year, I stayed in a small town in Quebec conducting research and visiting some of my best friends who live in that area. While there, I got to sled behind snowmobiles, eat lots of poutine (French fries with cheese curds and gravy), and go dog-sledding! In addition to lots of playing in the snow, I had the opportunity to sit down with members of the community who are working to integrate indigenous pedagogy into the education system, whether in their own classroom or on a provincial policy level. I took those interviews along with my other studies and turned them into a substantial thesis project, for which I took first place in the Social Sciences category at UT’s Exhibition of Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement (EURēCA) in mid-April.
Research has been an integral aspect of my development as a scholar.
I think research is an important part of the CHP for a lot of reasons. As it stretches us to work on a single project for multiple months or years at a time, it prepares us for further education beyond undergraduate studies; in my interactions with professors at UT and other major institutions, they’ve indicated to me that my experience in research makes me an excellent candidate for graduate programs. Moreover, as I apply for internships and jobs in my field, I find that employers are excited that I have demonstrable evidence of my abilities in research and writing.
Beyond the opportunities research creates, it is satisfying to have tangible products of meaningful work that I’ve done. Even if I don’t continue to work in this field, I’m proud of what I’ve worked on and I think my projects are important, even if I’m the only one who has learned from them.
All honors students should be pursuing research in their field because it deepens their studies and contextualizes the purposes of their scholarship.
I can’t imagine my undergraduate experience without my research assistant position and my individual research project, and I’m so grateful that I am a part of a university and a division that support that endeavor.