What’s the Research Symposium Anyway? A Guide From a 2x Winner


Eli and others engaging with their research and the masterpiece that is the poster presentation, Photo Credits: Eli Andrade

Every October, Columbia invites students’ families to campus for a weekend full of “intellectual, informational, and social events designed to let you experience, if only for a few days, what it means to be a Columbia student.” The highlight of this weekend, formally known as Family Days, is Homecoming—the day Columbia’s football team inaugurates the football season by facing off against (and usually losing to) another Ivy League team.


For us nerdy kids, however, the true highlight of this special weekend is the annual Undergraduate Research Symposium. On this holy day, all kinds of hopeful undergraduates across disciplines gather in Lerner to hang up their little 36″ by 41″ posters and vie for the Best Poster Prize. At first glance, the sheer number of people participating in the Symposium and the quality of their research can be daunting to the uninitiated. You must be asking yourself: “How can I, a novice in poster presentations, ever hope to compete against my more experienced peers, some of whom are under the tutelage of renowned faculty or working with established labs?”

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Advice For Those of Us Interested in Research for Student Publications

Collage, Photo Credit: https://artsinitiative.columbia.edu/student-arts-grants/

It is a wonderful thing to be paid for your research. That being said, outside of what you could call the traditional undergraduate research economy—fellowships, scholarships, etc.—student-run journals, magazines and reviews afford Columbia students plenty of opportunities to publish their research pro bono. While student publications may oftentimes lack the funds to financially compensate students for their work, many of them are eager to provide writers and researchers with other invaluable resources such as editors, peer review and publicity for their work. And while funded research opportunities are often extremely competitive, and therefore require students to spend hours getting their application materials together, very few student publications want to see your CV; most simply evaluate whether or not the proposed paper, essay or other project is a good fit for the publication. 

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Sailing In Search Of Second Wind

Untitled engraving of Sea Monsters Attacking a Sailing Vessel, 1684. Johann Christian Wagner, Photo Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The other day I had the opportunity to see one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman, in person, celebrating the life and work of another of my favorite authors, Ray Bradbury. Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and The Graveyard Book pleasantly haunted my childhood imagination; in my teens Ray Bradbury’s prolific exuberance provided me with ample fodder for a tear through one, then another, of his short story anthologies. Both authors were instrumental in convincing me that to be a writer, the first thing one must do is write – and write consistently, even every day, as Bradbury did from the age of twelve on. Discipline, they insisted, far from being detrimental to zest and gusto and inspiration, fanned the flames of those things, channeled them, purified them.(And I, taking up my pen in youthful imitation and aiming to write every day, believed them). Continue reading

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Dressing for the Core

Library of Columbia University, New York, Photo Credit: New York Historical Society

You are a typical Columbia College undergraduate student. CDC guidelines permitting, in your first year you live and breathe Columbia’s neoclassical (or Beaux-Arts, depending on who you ask) -style campus; and as far as academics go, the Core is all you can be certain about. You begin the year with a copy of Homer’s Odyssey in hand. For a week or two, you lug this book from the southernmost edge of campus, where you live, to—in all likelihood—Hamilton Hall, a couple hundred feet from your door, and back. Four or more times a week, you pass two stained glass windows depicting Sophocles and Virgil (gifts of the classes of 1885 and 1891, respectively) whose works will soon replace the Odyssey in your bag. In your second year, you may live as far away as Carlton Arms on Riverside, between 108th and 109th; you face the prospect (as I did) of ferrying your copy of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason as far as Riverside Church on 120th and, on your very first day of the spring semester, gambling on which grand, pointed arch to duck into to escape the doom and gloom of winter.  Continue reading

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Where is the FUN in Funding? – Finding Funding as an Undergraduate Researcher in the Humanities


“Scholar” 1878, Photo Credit: Osman Hamdi Bey

As Researchers in the humanities, we are all well aware that our noble pursuits, unfortunately, require one thing: money. We are also well aware that filtering through
multiple databases to find that one niche fellowship that aligns with your equally niche research interests and having to draft, scrape, and revise multiple essays, all while you bother your mentors for letters of recommendation and ponder if your CV is impressive enough, only to receive a rejection months later, can be a tedious and arduous process—it is simply NOT FUN. But, if there is one thing I am sure of, it is that being unable to wholly dedicate yourself to reading, writing, and thinking about your research is way less fun than sacrificing some time now to apply for future funding. So let’s take a moment to gather our application materials, whatever grant proposal drafts you have, and a copy of your latest CV because here I bring you a quick roadmap on some of the best well-known (and lesser-known) fellowships, grants, and opportunities you can apply to as an undergraduate student in the humanities and as a budding scholar! Continue reading

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Some Thoughts on Canons, and A Modest Proposal for Freshman Year

LitHum is not enough.

Painting by Shen Zhou, 1467. National Library of China, Photo Credit: Public Domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

This observation should resonate with two groups of students in the class of 2027. The first group consists of those (there are some out there) who are excited to begin LitHum, who feel keenly the limitations of two weeks spent on the Iliad and recognize the travesty of rushing through Crime and Punishment, who sense that there is more – more to be gleaned from each of these texts, and more texts, for that matter, to be explored than are contained on the LitHum syllabus.

Besides being small, this first group is likely already on board with the argument that follows – but the second group I hope to reach is perhaps larger, and needs more persuading. This group consists of those students who feel the limitations of LitHum in a different way – who sense that the LitHum syllabus is a somewhat arbitrary selection of “significant” texts, and that in its arbitrariness the syllabus is exclusive, based on notions of “significance” and “Western-ness” that leave out various historically marginalized perspectives. While these students might enjoy the texts they read in LitHum, they may worry that, from the outset of their Columbia careers, they are being presented with a lopsided view of what constitutes a “great tradition” – and so are limiting their learning. Continue reading

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Visiting Libraries at other Universities for Research: A Guide!

This summer, I had the opportunity to conduct research for my senior thesis that I’m writing for the Department of History on the topic of Zhang Ailing, a transnational Chinese writer with support from Columbia’s Weatherhead East Asian Institute.

As Zhang’s archives are housed within the University of Southern California’s Special Collections, I traveled to Los Angeles in late August and made special preparations in order to view the documents. I hope to share some tips to guide future students who may be travelling to other libraries outside of New York in order to pursue their research topic!

The second page of “She Said Smiling,” a short story manuscript by Zhang Ailing,
Photo Credit: Donna Qi

1. Check library hours: Libraries operate on fairly regular schedules during the school year, but due to the fact that most of you may be receiving funding for research conducted during breaks (particularly during the summer), it is very important to check whether or not the library you need to go to is open when you are free to visit. It is also important to check what their hours are as you may have to adjust your trip accordingly so you get enough time in the archives. The USC Special Collections and the Rare Book Library was limited to opening from 1-5PM this summer, so I extended my trip so I had enough time to review and digitize materials for my senior thesis.

2. Follow the proper guidelines to reserving your materials: More likely than not, the materials that you are looking for are special and will not be available publicly, possibly due to the fragility of their condition. The Zhang Ailing Papers included several original letters and manuscripts that she had been working on up until her death, and so had to be specially requested. Most libraries will have a form that you can submit to request special materials and librarians will generally get back to you pretty quickly with your request. Continue reading

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Modern Approaches to the Canon

On the first day of Literature Humanities or Contemporary Civilizations, you were probably asked to ruminate on what a canon is. Responses to this question vary, yet they typically conform to two distinct categories. Some students hew to the orthodox conception of a canon as a repository of esteemed cultural texts, while others advance

A few foundational texts, Photo Credit: Eli Andrade

a more nuanced viewpoint, considering the canon a compilation defined by individual subjective judgments of cultural significance. Thus, the initial quandary that asks us to define the canon, must also always ask why the preeminence of white males and their works are the quintessential cultural exemplars of the West. This discourse reveals a prevailing skepticism within our cohort concerning the Western canon, primarily because of its historical proclivity to overlook the contributions of women, the working class, and individuals of color. As the semester unfolds, this conviction is only further crystallized as we find ourselves grappling with odd and archaic viewpoints like Aristotle’s “The slave is what he is by nature” (1260b40) or Rousseau’s notion that “the whole education of women ought to be relative to men..to please them, to be useful to them” (352). We, students, itch to rectify these age-old discourses, to participate in and create a philosophy that is mindful of people’s identities and histories—the token gesture to conclude with a singular lecture devoted to the themes of race and gender is not enough. Continue reading

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Core

The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church, Photo Credit: Courtesy of Poets & Writers

While most students really connect to at least one or two texts in the syllabus, many students experience Contemporary Civilization as a painful slog through the dregs of Western philosophy, a subject widely felt to be as stale as it is arcane and as somber as it is nutty. The prospect of reading long, difficult, debatably anachronistic and most often bigoted texts doesn’t appeal to everyone. More than that, I think that few students are in practice swayed by the old argument(cf. Picasso on art, Alexander McQueen on fashion, the fourteenth Dalai Lama on life) that you have to know the rules to break them, as it applies to the Core. If there is some analogue for “the rules” in an age of American cultural hegemony, the Core supposes that it’s the Western canon. However warily, let’s accept this premise against Audre Lorde’s best advice re: “the master’s tools” (a subject for another blog post). How can it ever feel like a drag to have to read Augustine (as it did for me), or Marx, or Ambedkar when these texts are meant to pull you out of whatever proverbial Truman Show you’ve been living in and into real, bona fide reality, where you can change things, for real? Continue reading

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Reflections on Language, Translation, and the Core

“Helen of Troy,” oil-on-canvas, 1863 Photo Credit: Dante Gabriel Rossetti

In September 2020, the first-ever assignment in my Lit Hum section was to develop an intralingual translation of the first seven lines of the Iliad. We had the standard version of the Iliad prescribed by the Core Office—Richmond Lattimore’s 1951 translation—and from the very beginning of the course our instructor made it clear that our access to this text, or to any of the other texts in Fall Lit Hum, would be mediated by a translator; that the translator was hardly transparent; that to engage in a close-reading of any of these works in translation, we had to understand the literary and historical context not only of the original text, but also, crucially, of the translator(s). I still recall rich seminar discussions in which we compared Lattimore’s translation of sections of the Iliad to those of other translators, with an eye towards issues of gender—for instance, interrogating the derogatory language Lattimore’s Helen used in reference to herself to describe her abandonment of her husband, Menelaus. What did this reveal about notions of gender in Ancient Greece—and in 1950s America? For our purposes, whatever Helen thought of her actions in Homer’s text was mediated by Lattimore.

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