Month: July 2018

Embracing the Confusion

As one of my last summers in Pittsburgh, I can’t help but grow nostalgic about all the things that I’ve come to love in this city. Namely, the tacos, the view from Flagstaff Hill, and the occasional (emphasis on occasional) pierogi. This summer has brought much-needed guidance and unknowing to my project, much of which is incredibly helpful! In a meeting with Dr. Keating, I actually said, “It’s interesting. I feel like the more I know, the less I actually feel like I know. Now, I know that I did this part of the project incorrectly. But, at least, I figured out that the project was done wrong?”

It’s funny—I look at this thesis as a completely different challenge. When I was a little kid, I was obsessed with perfection. If I didn’t like a drawing, I would rip the paper to shreds and start again. With this amount of research, it’s almost impossible to rip it to shreds and start anew. Every mistake and imperfection in what I do for this project leads me towards a different direction with this project. Now, I feel like every tangential occurrence feeds this project, as opposed to veers away from what it’s supposed to do.

In a sense, while I can’t rip up this project to tiny, tiny pieces (even though I want to) it has already taught me the importance of realizing that part of the journey is making mistakes. They contribute to the project just as much as the successful accomplishments. Doing parts of the project over further engrain the ideas and theories into my head, which is helpful.

And as for the element of not knowing, I mean, I’ve read about election law for two months. If the solution was apparent, I wouldn’t have a topic for a thesis. So in a way, I’m thankful for the lack of consensus between state and federal government on redistricting law. That comment might have crossed the line (redistricting pun), but I went into this project thinking that law could not be partisan. The law is the law, and theoretically, should be unbiased. Well, boy have I learned something. The law is a mysterious, politically motivated, illogical entity weaving its way through exceptions and loopholes. I don’t know enough about it, but it has been both insightful and inciteful to go on this year-long endeavor to learn more about it.

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The Show Must Go On…

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“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations
and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.”
―Bruce Lee


SPLIT SCREEN

There is a three minute sequence in the film 500 Days of Summer that I think of often. The screen splits into two halves: on the left it is labled Expectations, and on the right, Reality.  In the scene our protagonist attends a dinner party thrown by his ex-girlfriend, and in what I consider to be a heart-wrenching use of cinematic tools, we are shown his idealized expectations while watching them completely shatter. I cannot help but think of this scene in moments like this, where my expectations are not lining up with my reality, and my project is in some ways being split in two.

In the past few weeks my project has gone through several highs and lows. From winning an award at a research presentation, to losing the location I booked and not being able to find another, to hiring a wonderful cast and crew, to fracturing my pillars of support. I am working through the process, trying to learn from this as much as I can. Research is a learning experience after all, and as the mentor that came to speak to us last week said, “Stay grounded. Find a way to impose a structure on yourself.”

So, as I carry on this summer with my research, I am imposing a split structure, one that will hopefully help balance my idealized notions with my actual capabilities. By working on two halves, one in film and one in fiction, I am hoping to create a project that is not necessarily perfect, but demonstrates my dedication, progress, and skill. As the mentor told us, “You want to gain experience doing something well.” So if I can keep my expectations in check and manage all the ever moving pieces of my project, hopefully this split will lead to a positive outcome. Or at least one less heartbreaking than the previously mentioned film.


Project Update

So Far:

  • Completed Third Draft of Film
  • Production Schedule Completed
  • Hired Main Cast and Crew
  • Props, Costumes, and Locations Acquired
  • Storyboards Started
  • Presented Research

In the Next Few Weeks:

  • Meetings with Advisors
  • Third Round of Revisions
  • Transportation and Location Finalization
  • Storyboard Completion
  • Next Research Presentation
  • FILMING!

About the Project   ♥     About the Studio

Different Perspective

The piece of my project that has been the biggest struggle for me this summer has been my introduction. For psychology research, the introduction is where you lay out all of the background research that motivates your study, the gap that you are filling, all of the work that underlies your hypotheses, and the methodology for the study. The introduction should weave a cohesive and understandable narrative for the psychology researchers that are going to read your paper in the future.

My first introduction draft was a little rough, with not enough explanation on some concepts that I didn’t think warranted attention and not enough of a narrative for my research. Dr. Creswell suggested I go back to the drawing board and re-write my outline: connecting the dots before I sat down to write again.

The same week I was rewriting my introduction, I participated in a three-minute research competition. This competition required me to present on my entire summer research in three minutes to a lay audience. This meant I couldn’t use any shortcuts when explaining my background or methodology. While writing and practicing this presentation, I learned how to concisely explain the reason for my research and its implications, and I understood how to distill my research for anyone to understand.

After the competition, I focused on my introduction once again. And this time, I could use the narrative I used during my presentation to structure my argument and flesh out the research. Being required to look at my research in a different way and tell the story of my research in a different manner ultimately helped me to understand my introduction.

My advice from this experience is to try to look at your research from a different perspective. And sometimes you need to take a step back from one aspect of your work in order to understand it better.

On the Intersection of Feminism and Revenge

“But were she able, thus she would revenge…”
– Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy –

How do works of popular entertainment critique the societies which enabled their creation? In the world of revenge drama, the answer to that question often takes the form of another question: Who has the right to seek revenge? In Aeschylus’ Oresteia, the hero Orestes is caught between a philosophical rock and a hard place. Honor demands that he kill his mother Clytemnestra to avenge his own father’s death, but in doing so he risks his immortal soul. Orestes does not heavily weigh the fact that Clytemnestra herself was an avenger. By murdering her husband Agamemnon, she achieved justice for his murder of their daughter, Orestes’ sister, Iphigenia.

All of which is to say that Orestes and the gods held the life of Mycenae’s king to be more precious than that of her queen. By forgiving Orestes of his crime and empowering the court of Athens to resolve issues of justice in the future, Aeschylus (in the voice of Athena) gives legitimacy to the patriarchal power structures that have enabled the death of multiple women through the trilogy. This is just one reading of an incredibly intricate and impactful text, but it reflects a throughline in revenge drama that has stretched through early modern theatre to the present day.

Questions of gender and society are at the forefront of many revenge plays, from Shakespeare’s Hamlet to Thomas Middleton’s Women Beware Women. These plays often see women as the victims of horrible crimes. Due to the nature of these crimes–ranging from incest to murder–and the restrictions placed on women, female characters are frequently denied any chance to pursue their own catharsis. Lavinia in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus is a prime example. Although she suffers greatly, it is her father who is responsible for seeking vengeance (and it is her father who is ultimately directly responsible for Lavinia’s death). Titus is a hard play for modern audiences to wrap their heads around, because in his play Shakespeare deliberately blurs the lines between parody, critique, and tragedy. Nevertheless, one point is painfully clear: In Elizabethan as in Greek drama, women do not have the right to seek their own justice.

These were some of the thoughts running through my mind as I began researching the rape-and-revenge subgenre. Nearly every film in this category has the same basic structure: woman is assaulted, woman escapes or recovers, woman kills her assailants. Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave is perhaps the most infamous example. First released in 1978 and still banned in certain countries today, the film has drawn criticism for its brutal depiction of sexual violence and torture. For years, academics have debated the film’s feminism; Zarchi claims to have made a feminist film. But in 2018, perhaps the best cinematic response we will ever get to I Spit on Your Grave was released in the form of Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge. Fargeat’s film empowers its female protagonist especially through the use of cinematography. Where Zarchi’s camera focused on the suffering of its protagonist, Fargeat focuses on the callousness of the male antagonists. Revenge revels in being an exploitation film just as much as I Spit on Your Grave, but by working to make familiar images uncomfortable it transcends the pulp genre from whence it emerged to become something altogether new, tense, and exhilarating. Filmmakers like Fargeat prove that there is still space for ancient tropes in cinema and power in using those tropes to upend even the most toxic of genre conventions.

My July To-Do List

  1. Complete Thesis Introduction. Thanks to my advisor, Vicki Helgeson, this has been my number one goal for the last two weeks. She’s been extremely encouraging and supportive throughout this whole process and she really believes that getting a head-start on writing the thesis will save precious time in the spring when senioritis will most certainly kick in. As of now, I have a new draft of my goals and hypotheses for my study, with an outline of the section coming soon!
  2. Take an MCAT Practice Exam Every Week. I’m now less than two months away from my exam and it’s getting closer to crunch time. Upon suggestion from current medical students, practicing often and frequently with official material is better than keeping my nose in the books. I’m sitting at a nice place right now with my practice tests thus far, but there is always room for improvement.
  3. Maintain a passing grade in 15-110. Wow, I finally found my worst subject. For a while it was statistics and then it was physics and now the clear frontrunner is computer science—in a word, I’m dreadfully slow at working through these problems and coding is literally like learning a new language. If anyone asks if I plan on taking 15-112, my answer will be a quick “NOPE.”
  4. Catch at least 90% of Pokemon in the National Pokedex. We all need relaxing activities when stressed—but this has been a big goal of mine since I was 7, so let me live!
  5. Find a new show on Netflix or Hulu. I just finished Parks and Recreation, and I’ve been an emotional wreck for the last two weeks, but everyone knows it takes me days to get hooked on a new show (for reference it took me two months to finish one season of The Office). Here’s hoping I don’t take 13 years to finish my next series.
  6. Be a better Yinzer. Much of my summer has been spent indoors, largely due to restrictions beyond my control, but I’m itching to go to Pirates games and Kennywood and explore more of the city on weekends. After this Friday, I’ll have a better idea of how frequently I can use my weekends to explore and I couldn’t be happier—I’m tired of being cooped up inside all weekend!
  7. Decorate my fall 2018 room. My classic formula includes far too many flags and tapestries, with a hint of too many mini-fridges.
  8. Breathe and Be Patient. Simple as that. Summer’s coming to an end quickly and senior year will be here soon enough. Good things are on the way and come to those who wait.

 

 

Lit-wrestling

It’s relatively easy to burst with an idea that you want to pursue. It’s a totally different story if you want to dive in and grasp what has been done systematically. I’m sure it’s a common struggle, but we don’t call that a struggle for no reason.

I heard this anecdote from one of the professors that I’ve been working with. This professor once had a project that was ongoing for years. And right when it was almost finished, he realized that a nearly identical study has been done in the ’60s. Of course he had something new in his version, but it wasn’t as ground-breaking as he thought it could be.

The problem then is how shall we properly conduct a literature review in the most efficient fashion? Well, just “read” and “communicate,” especially the latter. I learned my lesson the hard way.

I wouldn’t call my effort for the past two weeks “futile” because I did learn something. But until yesterday, my thesis advisor and I were not on the same page for the grand goal of this project. Hence, I didn’t read and formulate the ideas that are relevant to the ideal scope of this study. To clarify, we had an hour-long meeting every week but we didn’t spend much time taking a step back and evaluating the project in a holistic way. In a hindsight, I should have asked more questions and made less assumptions.

But there we go. The review progress is back in focus now.

“The obvious solution is no solution at all”

I remember reading this quote at the start of my research and feeling defeated.

I optimistically sought to focus my summer research on acquiring a better understanding on cultural appropriation and cultural theory, so that I could best contribute to the debate with “solutions” or “alternatives.” Yet, just when I was barely starting to research, I read the quote: “the obvious solution is no solution at all.” My mission to seek solutions quickly felt futile.

As I kept on reading, the same quote stood in the back of my mind. Reading arguments in favor, against, and in-between, it was soon clear to me that – given the controversial nature of this topic – there is no obvious or “correct” solution at all. Moreover, as I read and keep reading I noticed that, rather than alternatives or solutions, what there seems to be – regarding my research topic – is a lot of opinions.

Papers stopped being the communication of “ultimate truths,” to become opinion-pieces or argumentative essays. Intellectual contributions did not require testing as much as they required sample evidence. And research was not merely an “objective” contribution to knowledge, but also a tool for propaganda.

Based on these observations, I have started to reconsider the goals for my research. I am no longer looking for “solutions” or “alternatives” as I read about cultural appropriation and theory. Rather, I am looking for ideas, concepts and theories that could help me justify and define my project within a broader context. Reading and learning about opinions so I can make my own opinion and defend it.

I must say – knowing how I have reacted to many of my summer research readings – that the idea of deciding on an opinion and defending it is quite intimidating. However, when compared to the goal of finding “solutions,” making an opinion not only seems more feasible, but also seems like a more exciting aim.

With a new redefined goal set in mind, I am ready to continue my readings to later develop a specific opinion about my research topic.

Until then, I am more than happy to pitch you my project as whatever you may label it – research, thesis or propaganda.

Learning to Embrace the Chaos

My academic career is built on structure — of major requirements, exam schedules and class deadlines. I am used to operating to a rhythm at Carnegie Mellon, one that peaks at midterms and finals.

If the semester is a familiar song, then independent research feels like freestyle on a new instrument. There are small moments of structure, like weekly cohort events and attentive advisers, but the day to day rhythm is discretionary. There are no classes to set a pace.

Some people thrive on independence. For me, its been a more difficult transition. The work I do now is essentially just reading. I’m reviewing many anthropological texts to gain a base in theory. It’s meant to provide a grounding that will be invaluable for the rest of my thesis. However, reading doesn’t result in tangible results, and it can be difficult to gauge my progress.

With a year long project in my specific disciplines, there’s a great deal of background work that needs to be done. It’s not a normal project, where I can start writing early on and work towards my word count. It’s open-ended, where I ultimately decide what the topic is meant to be.

I’m still getting used to this system, but it feels like an evolution of what I’ve done in the past in my classes. It’s the biggest academic challenge I’ve faced yet, but its one that is helping me develop new skills and hone old ones.

 

The Discovery of a Project

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The skills involved with research — to search, analyze, synthesis and reimagine — are as essential to studying at Carnegie Mellon as being able to read. No matter what your major or area of study, research is integrated into the curriculum. After three years at CMU, I’ve completed plenty of research about history and politics inside and outside the classroom.

But original research? That’s a lot harder. That means digging deep to find a passion that can sustain many hours of tireless work. It’s different than research for a grade or to help a favorite professor. It’s entirely on you.

I love my majors. But until a couple months ago, I didn’t think I could find anything that I could sustain for a year of independent work. What happened is serendipity.

This spring, I took a class called Art, Conflict and Technology in Northern Ireland. The course description sounded fascinating, and it would help me complete my art gen-ed requirement in a context that involved politics and history. This class also involved a trip to Ireland (mostly Northern Ireland), meant to result in deeper insights to the conflict.

The trip, for me, was a revelation. I realized there, in the midst of a community in recovery, how many questions I had about the remnants of the conflict in Northern Ireland, the peace process, the years following and the people involved. It was the perfect intersection of my interests in history/politics and my passion for work that could help people.

I don’t yet know the specifics of my project, but I’ll be broadly looking at community recovery after conflicts and using Northern Ireland as my case study. There’s several specific directions I’m contemplating for the rest of my project, and by the end of the summer, I hope to set the path for the rest of my research.

Last Summer, Make it Count!

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I’m generally a very nostalgic guy. And I can’t help but think that this might be my last summer in Pittsburgh. The summer here is always a gem and the sense of slowly saying goodbye is killing me. I’m from Shenzhen in southern China where it has more rain and humidity so I’m satisfied with Pittsburgh’s weather, despite its reputation. As a result, I wanted to do something meaningful that will make the last summer count. That’s when I saw the email for the Dietrich College Honors Fellowship. And here I am, trying to grasp and enjoy every bit of this summer ride.

I study psychology with a minor in cognitive neuroscience. My broad interests of research are to wear a pair of clearer lens on how the world works but also to attempt to intervene the social issues through my knowledge. I had countless conversations with my thesis adviser, Dr. Kody Manke, about different topics that I may work on. At the end, we agreed to choose the topic of “Environmentalism and Gender Stereotype.” I’m not an avid environmentalist but I’m conscious about my eco-friendly behaviors for the most part. I don’t do them because other people say we should. I do them because I believe it’s the right thing to do. Bad for the mother Earth, not everyone thinks in that way. And that’s where my project enters the spotlight.

My thesis project is built on the idea that men conduct less eco-friendly behaviors and the reason behind it is that those behaviors and green products are regarded as feminine by both men and women. So men often intentionally choose less green products to maintain their masculinity, especially when it’s being threatened. This is a phenomena but how can we mitigate this problem? We need to look into the potential mechanisms: what are barriers in gender stereotype and why do they pose threats to men? Previous studies show that these barriers may be partially removed by affirming the manliness of the participants. Therefore, hopefully this project may be able to bear some potential means to remove or motivate men to overcome those barriers.

In a nutshell, this will probably be my best summer here!