How to Pick a JP Topic in a Research Seminar You Know Nothing About

Robertson Hall, home of the Woodrow Wilson School

As a concentrator in the Woodrow Wilson School, I have finally reached the much-discussed junior year, a year full of research seminars, task forces, and not one, but two JPs. Before the semester started, I was given a list of 8 to 10 research seminars and asked to rank my preferences. I’m interested in researching race and discrimination, but the limited selection meant that none of my options exactly matched up to this. Now I’m in a seminar about Maternal and Child Health in the U.S., and I have to face the nerve-wracking question: how do I pick a JP topic in a subject I’m totally unfamiliar with? For me, the first step started with a simple attitude change.

After panicking about my unfamiliarity with the topic, I remembered something my mother always told me growing up: if you go into a situation with a negative attitude, it will affect the outcome. So, with a healthy dose of optimism, I started thinking about how I could use this seminar as an opportunity to explore a new topic. This allowed me to reframe my research approach. Instead of assuming I knew nothing about maternal and child health, I decided to ask myself the ways in which I had already interacted with these topics, no matter how indirectly.

For example, I found the content of my seminar to be highly applicable to my everyday life. Being a woman means maternal health may be a concern of mine at some point in the future, and it allows me to interact more with the topics of my seminar. As a student, controversial issues like abortion and healthcare are regularly alluded to on campus or in the media, especially when tied to political debates or demonstrations. This makes it easier for me to empathize with the material.

Changing your attitude definitely influences the way you think about a topic. Once you have an open mind you are better able to look for and recognize examples of your topic in everyday life.

Now that I am able to connect with my seminar topic, I am ready to tackle my JP and begin my research process, synthesizing my newfound knowledge about maternal and child health in the U.S. with issues I am already familiar with and passionate about. As a Petey Greene tutor, prison reform is one of my interests. Layering it on top of maternal and child health policy in the U.S. pushed me towards my finalized JP topic: the inconsistencies surrounding maternal health policies in women’s prisons and why they exist.

Andrea Reino, Social Sciences Correspondent