As the deadlines for Expository Writing 20 final papers approach, freshmen in social science-themed sections are increasingly using surveys and interviews to conduct original research on the Harvard community.
“This is a growing trend, certainly in the social sciences,” said preceptor James P. Herron, who teaches the Expos 20 section “Whiteness and Race.”
Roughly three-quarters of his students chose to gather ethnographic data for their final research papers this semester, Herron said.
Herron added that he thought this research method allows freshmen who are “intensely curious about Harvard as a place” to pursue their interest in the community.
“Many students who come to Harvard are feeling their own identities shift,” he said. “They’re able to take ideas that have been developed in other contexts and look at them in their own social context.”
Vipul S. Shekhawat ’14, a student in Herron’s section, said he chose to conduct original research for his paper because he thought “it would be most interesting to write about the community we’re in.”
Over the past few weeks, Shekhawat—who is researching the perceived “whiteness” of extracurricular activities—has conducted six in-person interviews and collected over 200 responses from a survey he sent out over several House lists.
The experience has been rewarding, he said.
“This is information that no one has ever analyzed,” said Shekhawat, who is also a Crimson magazine editor. “It’s a great opportunity to write about something actually new.”
Michelle N. Dimino ’14—who is researching student perception of the John Harvard statue for her Expos 20 section “Writing Culture”—has collected about 200 responses from a survey she sent out over four House lists.
She said the process has been much more challenging than researching a traditional paper.
“It’s a lot easier to look at already established sources,” she said. “It’s really different to be on the other side of things.”
While data that do not reveal “an obvious pattern” can be frustrating for students who conduct original research, these anomalies can also lead to intellectual discovery, Herron said.
“Often the surveys or the interview don’t yield the type of information that the students thought they were going to get,” he said. “And then they have to reconceive the question in a new direction.”
Despite the surge of original research in social science-themed courses, Herron said he does not expect this method of research to find a place in the curricula of all Expos 20 sections.
However, Herron added that he thought students in literary-based courses also conduct their own form of original research.
“The only difference is in what counts as evidence,” he said.
—Staff writer Rebecca D. Robbins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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