Four Tips for Summer Research

Greetings from Rio de Janeiro!

Back in April, I shared some tips about how to prepare for summer research. Now we’re well into summer, and I’m on the ground in Brazil — conducting my thesis research on psychiatrist Nise da Silveira (1905-1999) and her legacy in Rio. I have made several trips to da Silveira’s psychiatric institute, particularly to visit the Hotel da Loucura — a creative space where artists and the institute’s clients come together to make theater. With two weeks of research completed, I thought I would share some summer research tips that have helped me so far.

Mural of Nise da Silveira in the Hotel da Loucura

1 – Plan in increments. For me, the most daunting — and most exciting — part of tackling a long-term project is the need for flexible and evolving goals. Especially for an ethnographic and interview-based project like mine, I cannot predict what will come up. So far, I have found it most useful to take things a week at a time. I make weekly objectives: attend one theater workshop, conduct two interviews, make a visit to da Silveira’s archives, etc. This allows me to break down the immensity of a two month long research project into smaller, reachable goals.

2 – Write something everyday. I am discovering something new everyday: about Rio, about the people I meet, about art’s ability to heal — and, of course, about Nise da Silveira. I keep a notebook with me everywhere I go, jotting down notes, observations, and questions as I sit on my daily bus home from the psychiatric institute. Back in my apartment, I use these notes to write a short journal entry on my computer: a 15-minute exercise that not only gets me thinking critically about my research experiences, but also produces material that may be used months down the road in my thesis.

The Hotel was also granted permission to hold an art installation in the government building.

3 – Engage people you don’t know. You never know who might be able to help you. When I arrived, the people of the Hotel da Loucura were occupying the plaza in front of a government building, playing music, staging a play, and advocating for a greater questioning of how we treat people with different mental capacities. Following a thought-provoking monologue by an older actress, I approached her to talk about her work. She ended up not only agreeing to sit down for an interview, but also to show me around the city. I learned that — while it may feel awkward! — engaging with strangers is one of a researcher’s greatest assets.

4 – Take time off. It’s summer! We do so much work at Princeton during the school year; we need to remember that this is also our time to relax. While it is important to get your research done, let yourself recharge, too. Read a book. Go to the beach. Sleep in. Your research will only be better if you’re taking care of yourself.

– Dylan Blau Edelstein, Humanities Correspondent