Original Research at the Undergraduate Level

by Hannah Kim

I remember feeling a mix of confusion and liberty when I realized that teachers and textbooks do not always have the answers. During the second semester of my freshman year, it occurred to me that I could ask questions that have never been answered or even asked before. This is especially the case in my major, philosophy. Because I spent my childhood in Korea, I grew up within an educational system where I was tested and ranked every two months. In the context of a seemingly never-ending supply of multiple-choice exams, “learning” was really “memorizing,” and asking questions—such as “why” and “so what” — was a luxury I did not have until I came back to the states. Now I can understand why I was so captivated by philosophy research— it revolutionary to think that learning could consist of asking a series of questions. For this reason, discovering research was both an academic and personal revelation; it is assuring to know that I could search for answers and find new facts or develop ideas that contribute back to a subject that I find important and meaningful.

Being able to do original research at the undergraduate level provides me resources to pursue whatever questions I have come to ask. At Emory, I have received support both at the individual level of my thesis advisor and an institutional level of the Fox Center. Forming close, intimate relationships with faculty members and other undergraduate researchers is not only intellectually stimulating, but also personally rewarding. In addition, I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to undergraduate philosophy conferences as a part of doing original research. Meeting like-minded students, learning about their projects, and getting feedback on my own work has continued to motivate me and inspire me.

It occurs to me that pursuing research at an undergraduate level is also an astute career move because it allows one to get a glimpse of what professors do. Engaging with a research project for an extended period of time is the beginning (if not the essence) of an academic’s lifelong dedication to a relatively focused area of study. One’s understanding and appreciation of any chosen topic is enriched through original research, and so it’s been a heartening phenomenon to find more and more students engaging in original research at an undergraduate level.