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Undergraduate Research Opportunities at Vic

Aug. 24, 2021
Khushi Nansi Vic 2T1

Khushi Nansi Vic 2T1

After an undergraduate research paper has been submitted and graded, its life cycle is considered to be complete. At Victoria College, however, students can submit their best papers for publishing in one of over 50 scholarly journals authored, edited, and published by undergraduate students.

One such journal is The Undergraduate Journal of American Studies (JAS) in which Thomas Siddall Vic 2T1 was published and for which Khushi Nansi Vic 2T1 served as co-editor-in-chief.

Nansi decided to apply to the JAS as co-editor for the same reason she pursued American Studies—because of “the desire to listen to silenced or purposely hidden stories and bring those same stories to the forefront.” The JAS is comprised of stories of “displacement, discovery, instability and change.” Each paper is accompanied by an illustration that has been carefully selected “to turn the lens of sight back upon the silenced, what has been lost, or hidden.” In so doing so, she and her co-editor hoped to use this issue of the JAS to “conjure a palimpsest of American democracy, treachery, and hope.”

Although publishing a journal at any time requires significant effort, doing so while working and attending university remotely offered unique challenges. Nansi started working with the publication in her third year on the assistant editors’ team, but wanted to become more involved in her final year.

“The year prior, I was fortunate enough to be on the assistant editor’s team, so I understood the mechanics of production, but it was difficult that in my final year we could not meet as a team, have organic discussions, or celebrate the launch of the JAS. And there were, of course, many unexpected bumps and delays along the way, as everyone was dealing with tumultuous days, every day.”

Nansi insists, however, that the end result made the process—even during COVID—worthwhile. “I am very pleased with what we managed to accomplish. It is wonderful to hold the printed book in my hands, and I cannot wait for our contributors and everyone else to be able to do so as well when the JAS is available for pick up in September!”

Opportunities for undergraduate research experience also helped with her decision to apply to graduate school. “I applied to be co-editor not only to expand upon my knowledge of the field of American studies, but also to use knowledge from my diverse interests: labour relations and art history. Combined, they influenced my decision to apply to graduate schools.” In the fall, Nansi will begin her master of science in architecture in the Aga Khan Program in Islamic Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), under the supervision of Professor Nasser Rabbat.

Over the past year she has assisted Professor Sarah Fee at the Royal Ontario Museum conducting research for an Indian Ocean textiles article to be published in a forthcoming edition of The Cambridge Global History of Fashion. She has also worked as an intern for Professor Fee at U of T’s Department of Art History. Nansi is also a recipient of the Traditional Fulbright Student Award for Canadian Students for her project Master’s in Language of Dress & Adornment in South Asia and Architecture of the Medieval Islamic Underworld. Nansi graduated in June with a double major in the history of art and industrial relations and human resources, and a minor in American studies.

Thomas Siddall has one of their undergraduate papers published in the most recent edition of the JAS. They originally submitted their essay, “The Way Boys Do: Transforming White and Asian American Citizenships,” in 2019 for a seminar course: Queer Migrations and Refugee Politics. Two years later they decided to publish the paper because they needed to clarify their research ethics for potential graduate studies. “At the time, I was working through personal questions about why I wanted to go to graduate school and why my voice might be useful within greater academic conversations.”

Their experience with the JAS gave them the opportunity to work through those decisions. “In my experience,” says Siddall, “the care that the co-editors gave to each paper’s author has elucidated my own thinking on care as an academic practice. Balancing the editing of this work after two years while communicating online has been something I’ve gotten used to; however doing this alongside writing my senior thesis and applying to graduate school was challenging at times. In this, I had to re-investigate what it meant to care about the process of writing, and caring for myself as I redeveloped ideas that I had stored away as soon as I had originally finished writing this seminar paper. In all, I am just happy that I got the work done—and the final publication that the team put together was far beyond my expectations.”

Victoria College has been foundational for Siddall’s interest in graduate research. “Being at Vic was a good choice for me as the environment enabled the successful completion of my program. Vic fosters a creative space which makes a lot of social science and humanities research possible.” They are putting the finishing touches to their degree in international relations and contemporary Asian studies, and are due to graduate in November. They will return to U of T in the fall for their master’s in human geography and will explore the intersections of economic globalization, contemporary art and queer transnationalism in Mainland China and Taiwan.

Running a journal can be daunting as the publication process is complicated and historically undergraduates have had little opportunity to see their work published. However, Victoria College is committed to helping undergraduates with their publications. “For students who are interested, the Scholars-in-Residence program at Victoria College offers a workshop on publishing in undergraduate journals,” says Professor Ira Wells, academic programs director.

In the past several years specifically, Wells has noticed a significant shift in the undergraduate research landscape. “There has been a notable increase in students who understand the value of gaining publishing experience in undergraduate journals,” says Wells. “Many of these journals provide excellent opportunities to work with an editor, gain a deeper understanding of the full cycle of a publication, and begin developing your own research profile.”

Alexandra Rahr, Bissell-Heyd Lecturer in American Studies and assistant professor agrees: “Students are aware of how competitive post-graduate studies can be, and are often very interested in gaining experience and also adding to their CVs. An undergraduate publication record is impressive and demonstrates a willingness to go beyond the norms of class work and pursue an idea for its own sake.  Intellectual curiosity meets professionalization on this one.” 

Professor Rahr assists with the JAS publication process and offers students both advice and support. She emphasizes the significance of undergraduate research in broader scholarship. “Students who are a part of the editorial team tell us again and again how invaluable the experience is. It’s wonderful training to edit someone else's work, and students say that the process makes them much more effective editors of their own work, as well as better readers of their peers' essays. And it's great training for post-graduate work as well as for the workplace—clear communication and the ability to identify and fix writing problems is an invaluable skill.” 

“Working on the journal really gives students the chance to be on the other side of the desk, so to speak—they're assessing their peers' work, and helping students hone an intellectual argument. It gives both authors and editors a chance to be involved in a collective scholarly endeavour and to get a sense of what more advanced research and writing is like. Many of our past contributors have gone on to graduate or law school, often pursuing specialization in the areas they chose to write about in the journal. American Studies is an interdisciplinary field, and the journal exemplifies this academic breadth—we regularly print papers from a wide variety of fields. The project gives students a chance to do American Studies work, rather than just reading about it—and to gain essential skills in scholarly production. Every year, there are incisive, thoughtful and timely papers published in the journal, and we're very proud of the hard working editors and the contribution the journal allows students to make to American Studies as a discipline.”   

Growing a young publication and spreading awareness of its existence are difficult, but both Rahr and the students involved have found the experience extremely rewarding.  “It’s a real pleasure to work with students outside the classroom,” says Rahr. “I like to see them expanding their skills—especially the editing, communication and critical analysis skills that are so transferable to workplaces and to post-graduate studies. It’s also a chance for me to learn more about our students’ interests—what ideas and concepts catch their eyes and that’s just such a pleasure.”

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