Five Steps to Prepare for Summer Research

I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s spring again, and we only have a month to go before finals. As summer approaches, many Princetonians are getting ready for jobs, internships, and — if they’re lucky — vacation. Others, like me, are prepping to do research.

This has been on my mind a lot recently. I am a PIIRS Undergraduate Fellow, which means I am receiving funding and guidance to conduct my thesis research abroad this summer. Recently, I submitted my final proposal. I hope to explore Brazilian psychoanalyst Nise da Silveira’s legacy outside of the realm of psychology. Known for using artistic expression as a means of treatment for schizophrenic patients, da Silveira’s teachings serve as a source of inspiration for some artists in Brazil. Finishing my proposal forced me to prepare for my time in Rio. Here, I thought I would share the five steps I found most helpful.

A plus about doing my summer research in Rio? Seeing this view from the plane!

1) Think about your personal goals and interests. Reflect a little. What do you want to get out of your independent work? For me, I know I want to become a better ethnographer, improve my fluency in Portuguese, and immerse myself in Rio’s art world. My project is designed to address these goals by placing me in constant contact with artists. Locating your areas of interest and desired growth is important if you haven’t picked a topic yet, too; find something that excites you! After all, independent work is more than a torturous graduation requirement—it’s your time to grow intellectually and hone in on something enthralling!

2) Talk to professors. I know this is something we write about a lot on PCUR, but that’s because professors are such valuable resources. Once I had my initial ideas to explore art and mental stigma, I spoke to two professors about the topic. I left these meetings not only with ten books to take out of the library and myriad themes to begin exploring, but also with the confidence that this project was a good one.

For my JP on a related topic, I have spent a lot of time exploring the literature!

3) Look at the literature. Exploring what has already been written can help focus your ideas. A quick library or Internet search is all it takes. Regarding my topic, I realized that while some newspapers have written about the artists I am interested in, there is, to the best of my knowledge, no academia. This not only helped clarify my interests, but also provided justification for going into the field.

4) Make connections. Are you working in archives? Conducting interviews? Looking for a lab? The best thing you can do is get in contact with people early. Your time in the field is limited. Make the most of it by writing emails and figuring out logistics ahead of time.

5) Develop a tentative schedule and to-do list. This does not mean you need to set anything in stone! For me, as an ethnographer, I plan to let my research surprise and guide me. But having a general list of things to get done — for instance, I know I want to visit a monthly open mic and an obscure art museum — will prepare me to tackle the field in a more organized fashion and also keep the big picture in mind.

Overall, preparing my PIIRS proposal made me realize that one of the most important parts of research is the planning phase before the field. So, embrace the time you have now. Take advantage of Princeton’s resources. Think through your ideas. Planning now can only make your research richer.

— Dylan Blau Edelstein, Humanities Correspondent