The Project That Made Me a Researcher… Sort Of

Over the course of the semester, PCURs will explain how they found their place in research. We present these to you as a series called The Project that Made Me a Researcher. As any undergraduate knows, the transition from ‘doing a research project’ to thinking of yourself as a researcher is an exciting and highly individualized phenomenon. Here, Dylan shares his story.


The Project That Made Me a Researcher. Hmm. It’s a loaded topic for me because it makes a big assumption: Am I a researcher? It feels awkward to ascribe the word to myself, like a shirt that doesn’t quite fit right.

I definitely do research. And I definitely love doing it. But a researcher? Something about it seems so … prestigious, perhaps? Important? World-changing? Where do I fit in all this?

Located in Lincoln Center in New York City, the NYPL for the Performing Arts is an excellent resource for anyone researching theater, dance, or other forms of live performance.

The project that comes to mind is my freshman writing sem paper. I looked at how La Cage Aux Folles — the first Broadway musical to portray a gay couple at its center — tamed its queerness for a commercial 1983 audience. It was the first time I’d discovered that my niche interests could be considered academic, and I felt compelled to go out of my way to learn more than I might otherwise have. My ambition pushed me out of Princeton — twice — to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, where an extensive archive of video recordings of theatre is maintained. There, wedged into a small cubicle with an archaic looking TV screen, I watched the original 1983 production and, on a second trip, the 2004 revival. Sitting there, surrounded by a smorgasbord of theater junkies fixated on their own little screens, I had an epiphany: research is fun.

But does this make me a researcher?

I believe it was a start. A huge part of research is choosing a topic that tickles your fancy, that makes you want to read the literature, to spend days, weeks, or months in the field or archives, and to write, rewrite, and re-rewrite. This project showed me that papers become fun to write when they matter to you, when moving beyond Wikipedia and into the world is thrilling.

So, am I a researcher? I guess so — or at least I’m on track towards becoming one. Research is not necessarily about changing the world, but about using your own interests — however weighty, flighty, or zany they are — to ask the questions that matter to you. As I learned freshman year and have confirmed in years since: Research is incredibly stressful, but is worth it when it comes from someplace real.

Last April, I acted in PUP and Theatre Intime‘s production of La Cage Aux Folles. Performing this musical two years after the research project felt like coming full circle!

— Dylan Blau Edelstein, Humanities Correspondent