By: Joanne Choi

Prior to starting my master’s program at TC, I had very little experience with pursuing research at the university level. As a graduate student, I knew I wanted to get involved, but with the overwhelmingly large number of opportunities at Teachers College, I was unsure where to begin.

I started by identifying the research labs, centers, and institutes at TC that align with my research interests–the study of language and English Education. The Gordon Language and Cognitive Neuroscience Lab seemed to be a good fit, and I reached out to the Lab Manager about possible opportunities to join the team. As a student with a limited background in research and cognitive neuroscience, frankly, I had low expectations.

Surprisingly, the Lab Manager interviewed me, and I joined the lab as a Research Assistant that spring. Since then, I have dedicated regular hours on a weekly basis developing two research projects for the lab. I even had the opportunity to present a research poster at Teachers College’s Second Annual Psychology Conference with fellow lab members, which was a truly memorable experience. Being able to obtain a role in a cognitive neuroscience lab as a liberal arts student proves that many opportunities at TC can be obtained simply by reaching out and asking–a principle which has been reaffirmed again and again during my time at the College.

I also had the opportunity to conduct formal research at TC in a more traditional classroom setting. Last spring, I enrolled in Master’s Seminar, a research intensive course required for my program. Under the guidance of Professor Adele Bruni Ashley, I was trained to collect, analyze, and categorize data about a self-selected research topic. My efforts culminated into a comprehensive research project addressing the educational experiences of Asian American secondary students in high-achieving schools.

I was advised by professors and colleagues thereafter to seek opportunities to share and publish my research beyond the confines of the classroom. Fortunately, TC provided me with a multitude of opportunities via campus-wide emails and postings to apply to present at graduate school research conferences. Despite being a fairly unseasoned academic, I accepted my professors’ advice and applied to present at numerous conferences.

This year, I have been fortunate enough to present at eight academic research conferences at various universities in the United States and internationally, including Stanford, UC Berkeley, Columbia, and Northwestern. One particularly memorable experience was presenting my research at the 2019 American Educational Research Association Annual Conference in Toronto, Canada.

I was initially reluctant to accept invitations to present at graduate school research conferences because of the cost of traveling–an understanding dilemma for many graduate students. To address my concerns, TC generously funded a significant portion of my travel expenses through college-wide fellowships and grants. For example, I applied for and was awarded the Provost’s Grant for Conference Presentation and Professional Development.

To my surprise, upon reaching out directly to my program’s department, I was provided with an additional travel stipend for which I had not formally applied. For this reason, I would encourage students not to hesitate from asking for funding because, in my experience, the College is often very generous and willing to help. Many offices at TC have sources of funding specifically allocated for students pursuing research, so remember, it never hurts to ask!

There are also plenty of opportunities for students to present their research at TC and Columbia. As a student research poster session finalist during TC’s Academic Festival, I had the opportunity to discuss my research with President Thomas Bailey, professors from various departments, and fellow classmates. In addition to being featured on TC’s social media platforms, such as the university website and Instagram story, I was filmed in TC’s recording studio for a video that was posted on TC’s YouTube channel.

Pursuing research has certainly been a highlight of my TC experience. I would encourage prospective students interested in conducting research not to be deterred by their previous inexperience, but rather, to take advantage of the numerous opportunities offered by the College and invaluable support of professors and colleagues.

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