Conversations over Lunch: The Research You’ve Started Without Even Realizing

There’s nothing very special about the statement that lunch is fun – who doesn’t enjoy it? What I’ve found more surprising is that even with all the thought provoking classes I’ve taken at Princeton, lunch is consistently one of the most interesting parts of my day. Whether relaying key points from a particularly great morning lecture, talking about our new favorite YouTube video, or filling each other in about weekend plans, my friends and I use lunch as a chance to share our latest finds. What I recently began to consider is that this universal desire to start a conversation around our latest discoveries sits at the core of the research process.

Image with a sun flare in the front of Forbes College.
On this particular day, Hiba and I had lunch at Forbes.

Take the conversation I had with my friend Hiba at lunch last spring, for example. On this particular day, one of us brought up our love for the song “Good Days” by SZA (it happens often enough that I don’t even remember who at this point). True to the poetry nerds that we are, we googled the lyrics so that we could discuss our favorite lines. Our conversation gradually evolved into enthusiastic debate over SZA’s use of religious metaphors. What did she intend when she alluded to the Book of Job? Why did she pair this with reference to the Battle of Jericho? And how did this all relate to what was happening instrumentally? Without even realizing it, Hiba and I had generated three potential research questions. Best of all, achieving this first step in the research process was completely pain free – it grew out of a combination of our interests and the lack of existing analysis we could find online. Hiba and I have continued our conversation since then, with our genuine excitement about the topic fueling our motivation to keep researching. My experience with Hiba has just been further proof that the belief research is some sort of “chore” you have to complete before you graduate is nothing more than a misconception.

Of course, lunch can just be lunch (and perhaps not so discreetly, I have been guilty of trying to direct conversations about homework towards more mindless chatter on occasion). Nonetheless, the fact still stands that we often first share our passions with our friends. Should you feel pressure to turn every single idea you have into a lengthy research project? Of course not! But the next time you find yourself struggling to think of a topic for your latest paper, or even if you are just looking for your next internet deep dive to fill a free afternoon, you may find it useful to think back to your own lunch-time conversations. In other words, is there research you don’t even realize you’ve already started?

— Kate Weseley-Jones, Humanities Correspondent