You Don’t Have to Be a Researcher, Not Yet

The statement of previous research is always tricky for the pre-doctoral applicants. Some are fresh from undergrad, with still vague interests in Venezuelan beauty pageants or Jewish hip hop culture. Very few young anthropologists have anything more than a limited background in fieldwork. Today, I’m looking forward to reading an application from someone who uses that to their advantage.

“Previous research” doesn’t always have to be quite so literal. This statement of previous research, really, should be a compilation of all of the experiences that have effected a young scholar’s mode of approaching and dissecting a project. This statement, quite simply, tells a story about the way that all of your past experiences have molded you into brilliant, incisive researcher. Scouring Google Scholar for a literature review for your biology class is relevant, if only because it indicates that you know how to digest the archives, elegantly swinging from one article to the next in order to paint a vivid narrative. Your work as a journalist on the school newspaper is relevant, because all of those hard-hitting but tactful interviews with disgruntled underclassmen proves that your future work in qualitative research will be similarly nuanced, insightful, and considerate.

Some applicants make the mistake of thinking that because they have done very little project-specific research, they have nothing to offer. You do. That’s what I would say to them. You do. Students often make the mistake of clinging to the only “substantial” social science-based research project they’ve done, talking and talking and talking and talking only about their senior thesis or about their application writing sample for all of the allotted two pages. All that proves is that these students have a limited experiential vocabulary: if they talk to me for 600 words about a singular 30-page paper they wrote two years ago, it signals to me that they have nothing else to talk about.

You might not have done any field research in Jewish hip hop culture just yet, but you saw Kendrick Lamar at ONE Music Fest last year, didn’t you? You haven’t scored the grant money to go down to Venezuela just yet, but you’ve worked in sales at Nordstrom for the past two years, right? We are all constantly soaking up experiences that do teach us how to approach our research, and I love it when applicants appreciate that.

Of course, the Ford Fellowship is also majorly about teaching through ethnic and racial diversity. The statement of previous research can’t just be a technical buzzword cornucopia of research labs and literature reviews. Your past research in itself should in some way indicate an ability to continue the Foundation’s goals. Of course, anthropology is inherently interested in chronicling diverse experiences, but I’m always disappointed when applicants fail to make the parallel between field diversity and classroom diversity explicit. It’s always suspicious when applicants fail to acknowledge the well-documented shortcomings in anthropological research, indicating how their own past and future research will rectify the often marginalizing and exoticizing slant in anthropology. Successful applicants consider the impact of their research on improving insensitive methodologies to better engage a wider range of students, because that, truly, is what we as a Foundation are committed to doing.

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2 Responses to You Don’t Have to Be a Researcher, Not Yet

  1. Maria Elizabeth Rodriguez Beltran says:

    One of my favorite post so far. Very useful information in order to think about a personal statement for the Ford, specially when one feels without the “necessary experience”. Thank you very much for this!

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