Thursday, February 6, 2014

National Collegiate Research Conference at Harvard University



            Harvard doesn’t have anything on the Global Scholars at AU. That was one of several conclusions I recently came to after I was fortunate enough to take a trip to Boston to present my Introduction to International Relations Research paper at the National Collegiate Research Conference at Harvard. The three days I spent at the conference were an amazing opportunity. It was quite the experience to meet and work closely with such an amazing collection of minds. In the interest of full disclosure, the Conference was probably about 75-80% hard science research pieces (with my IR work being grouped into the little government corner with the other “humanities”). In D.C. and especially at American University, I feel there is a trend towards activism and hands on work to get down and dirty and fix the world. Especially in the Global Scholars cohort where we finish a year early, it was amazing to meet a group of kids who were talking about being in college for upwards of a dozen years to get their PhDs and M.D. PhDs and other assorted research degrees (I’ll admit to not understanding some of what they were talking about...maybe more along the lines of 60-70% of what they were talking about in their research). That is not to take anything away from the gifted researchers from around the country (and Canada!) that I met there; when people ask me what kind of students I met there, I only semi-jokingly respond that they are the future Nobel Prize winners of the world.
 Speaking of Nobel Prize winners, another really cool aspect of the conference was the fact that it was at Harvard and that there is a plethora of world-renowned speakers at the ready as a result. I had the privilege to hear Nobel award winning Astrophysicists, a Vice President of Google and an entrepreneurial expert known as “Hacker Chick” speak as keynotes and in smaller workshops and panels. At these panels I learned how to write grants, build a successful start-up (step one in World domination, check!), and analyze research in the humanities from a hard science perspective.
The term “humanities” brings me to the biggest lesson I took away from the Conference and that I feel any IR major and especially any future Global Scholar applicants could take away from NCRC: how to work with hard scientists. We are not very much exposed to hard scientists at AU, and I’ll admit much of my knowledge of them comes from one Intro to Physics course and the Big Bang Theory. However, once you get past the respective jargons of their fields (and as intimidating as their research sounds, they are just as impressed/intimidated by IR research. I had more than one student remark to me, “I didn’t know you could do research like this, with no numbers or equations involved!”), it really is all about the research. A love of knowledge is what brings us together as academic students, and what better way to express that love than through research? The research projects I learned about ranged from the different ways to develop a cure for cancer, to tracking the spread of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, to the Hijras of India. At the end of the day, though, it all broke down to methodology, a universal academic language. The ability to experience a room full of researchers from fields completely unrelated to mine seemed daunting and almost unnecessary at first, but in reflection, it was one of the most eye-opening experiences of my academic career. Working with these students I realized a lot of them were technical geniuses but had no concept of integrating their discoveries or inventions into practical settings, such as a project to install massive solar panels in rural areas of developing nations that had no budget accounted for upkeep or security. That’s where we come in as social scientists. If we reach across the aisle and work with our hard-science brethren, we can make the world a better place.

Credit for this blog post goes to 2nd Year Global Scholar Mike Friel. Thanks, Mike!

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