Tarika’s undergraduate research on coalition formation in politics inspired her to become chair of LAUNCH, a student organization connecting students with research opportunities within the College of Liberal Arts.
Research Supervisor: Maraam Dwidar, graduate student in Government
Briefly describe your research project.
I was involved in a research project headed by Maraam Dwidar, a graduate student in the Department of Government at the University of Texas at Austin. This project examines the policy issues that minority interest groups form coalitions on, as well as the political conditions surrounding this coalition formation. After working on this project, I became chair of LAUNCH, a new student organization dedicated to providing undergraduate students with more research opportunities within the College of Liberal Arts.
Describe the tasks you engage in as part of your work.
My research project was heavily focused on data collection; therefore, my job consisted of reading through hundreds of public comments submitted by interest groups in response to federal agencies’ initiatives on policy and legislation. I used Microsoft Excel to analyze the public comments and record crucial information relevant to the possible formation of coalitions, or alliances between interest groups with similar opinions on a certain legislative issue. I analyzed, on estimation, 50 public comments per week!
Describe what you thought college might be like before you came to UT. Did you consider research when thinking about college?
Before I came to UT, I believed that my typical day at college would mostly surround classes, exams, and homework. I knew that student organizations and involvement with research were important; however, I was worried about finding the correct balance between my academic life and extracurricular life. Furthermore, research in the liberal arts can be difficult to find, and I did not even know where to start. The number of opportunities available for liberal arts majors led me to believe that undergraduate research may not be as important. Little did I know that research experience is crucial for students attending graduate or law school, and this inspired me to initiate LAUNCH as a way to help students like myself get involved in projects in COLA.
How did you get involved with your research project?
I was involved in the Women in Foreign Affairs student organization. One of the officers announced that she had been involved in a research project in government, and the graduate student who led the project was interested in recruiting more students to help with her work. I contacted this officer and received more information regarding the project, after which I was able to set up a meeting with Maraam Dwidar to discuss my involvement in detail. I definitely believe that the best way to find research opportunities is through networking, especially in COLA.
How does LAUNCH help undergraduates interested in research?
Currently, LAUNCH is working to host faculty research presentations, organize chats with professors conducting liberal arts research, provide information about funding opportunities, and create a network of undergraduate researchers in the College of Liberal Arts. The truth is that there are many research opportunities available in the College of Liberal Arts. We recently hosted an event called Taco’bout Research, in which we invited six professors to recruit students for their research projects. I was surprised to see the amount of interest we received from the students regarding this event, and we plan to host another similar event in the future.
What advice would you give to a student who was thinking about research?
There is no doubt that research takes time out of one’s schedule. Every project is different, but most are equivalent to the time commitment of one extra class. Still, I encourage those thinking about research to actively pursue a project should an opportunity come their way. Liberal arts research, which usually involves writing, reading, and data collection, provides a variety of skills that help students in their classes and, later on, in jobs. Attending research events throughout the semester can help foster connections between students and professors, and once that connection is built, the process of finding a project narrows down to a more simplified search.
Research Week showcases the exciting work of undergraduates across campus and highlights opportunities for students interested in getting involved. Co-sponsored by the Senate of College Councils and the School of Undergraduate Studies, Research Week takes place in the middle of April each year. Take a look at the online schedule of events to find out more about Research Week events.