I knew that when I came to college that it would be the perfect time to try new things and become a more well-rounded student, so I was determined to take advantage of this opportunity. I made a promise to myself to do at least one big thing that scares me each semester. This did not have to be anything extreme like going skydiving or trekking through the Amazon, although the latter would be cool! Rather, I needed to do something new that I am either nervous about doing or would normally never consider doing before. I came up with this new rule for myself when I learned about the Blue
Ridge Undergraduate Research Conference (BRURC) from one of my professors. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew I needed and wanted to get experience with research and get my name out there as early as possible. I may only be a freshman, but time runs out very quickly and there’s too much life out there to just passively live.
It was decided. I would start off on a different foot with a project that I affectionately named (Don’t laugh!) OTTERS: One Terrifying Thing Every Remaining Semester. I have a deep love for acronyms and otters, so the two naturally went together! The first step on this journey, I knew, had to be something big. One of my biggest fears is public speaking and, despite absolutely not wanting to voluntarily put myself in a situation in which I would have to do so, I started working on a project that I would present at BRURC.
I am a firm believer that beginning anything is the hardest step. Not only did I have to begin preparing myself for a presentation, I had to also choose something to present on. Depending on what I researched, according to the paperwork for BRURC I would have to have a faculty mentor to help me through the research and registration processes. I knew I wanted to work with a faculty member I was already familiar with, so being a first semester freshman when I began my research meant I had a small number of options for a mentor. After a lot of thought, I decided that I would first look into what interested me and then I would be able to go from there. I spent the next many (many, many, many…) days wondering what I love learning about but don’t know much about. My mind automatically jumped to literature- I’ve always loved books! That was a start, but I needed something else in order to have a functional research project. A less obvious passion of mine, it turned out, is philosophy. In any history, English, or math class, one of my favorite parts was learning about the different philosophers and the ideas that each had that shaped different parts of humanity. I began to read everything I could about the branches of philosophy and the ideas that characterized different time periods. I knew that this was the direction I wanted to focus my research, so it seemed natural to ask Dr. Hilberg, who is both the director of the Honors Program (which I talk about here!) and the chair of the Philosophy/Religion department at LMU.
It was by chance that I came across existentialism. Loosely defined, existentialism, I read, is the section of philosophy that is centered around the ideas of human existence. I found that I enjoyed reading what I could about existentialism, but a more defined branch of existentialism that caught my eye was the Absurd. The Absurd is a little bit more difficult to define than existentialism- it deals with human’s desire to find meaning in life but not having the ability to find any. This sounded a little morbid at first, but something about it interested me enough to read The Stranger by Albert Camus, an author who wrote extensively on existentialism and the Absurd.
As I read more into Camus’ works and nonfiction works that discussed the Absurd, I wondered whether something was “lost” when something that is hard to describe, like the Absurd, is written about in a fiction manner. This idea came to me in the middle of the night and I’ll certainly admit that I jumped out of bed to write it down! I knew that this was the direction I had been looking for all along.
So it all began. I laid out my plan with Dr. Hilberg, researched, and wrote down my research into paper format accordingly. I spent months reading, researching, writing, editing, and then rereading, rewriting and reediting to make my presentation just the way I liked it. I cannot thank Dr. Hilberg enough for all of his help; he put up with all of the writing I submitted to him on an almost-daily basis! Having the right person to help you try something new, no matter how foreign and terrifying it may seem at first, is always a huge help.
Finally, after all of my research and preparation was complete, it was time to present it. This was going to be the real test to see if I could really start off Project OTTERS on the right foot. BRURC took place on a Friday and Saturday, March 14 and 15. I was scheduled to present that Saturday at 10:15. The week leading up to my presentation was nerve-racking. Although it felt like I knew my topic well and that I was prepared, I still couldn’t believe that I had voluntarily signed up to do such a crazy thing. Before I knew it, it was Saturday morning. I got up early to make sure I had everything in order, including my six different flash drives (Yep, six. You read that right.) with my presentation on it. A few minutes before I was supposed to present, a group of my friends walked in and sat right in the front row. I was so relieved to see them! Also in the crowd, were some of my professors who had known that I was going to be presenting. With all the familiar faces I saw it was a lot easier to calm my nerves and talk about a topic that I grew to be so passionate about over the past few months. By the end of my talk I couldn’t believe what I had just done. I had done it! The second I said the last word I felt relieved and proud.
Public speaking has never been my thing, and I doubt I’m ever going to love it (After all, public speaking is more feared than death by most people!), but I am proud of myself for making a plan and sticking to it no matter how difficult it got. Maybe I’ll even try BRURC again next year!
As usual, if you have any comments or questions feel free to email me or leave a comment on my blog!