Hello again! It’s been a little while, and I hope you are all settling into this second semester nicely. Since most of my job has to do with helping out first-years with their writing seminars, for this post I thought I’d talk about my own experience in an SSI course.
I came to Puget Sound in the Fall of 2013 as a sophomore transfer student. I had already taken a first-year writing seminar at my first school, so I was placed in an SSI2 with a bunch of other transfer students. At this point in my college career, I was fairly confident in my writing and researching skills. I thought paper-writing was easy, and Google was the best place to find research. As I’m sure you have already guessed, I was proved wrong. Within the first couple of weeks I knew that I was going to have to play a lot of catch-up just to get to the level of scholarship my professor expected.
Even though I was much further behind than I needed to be, I was determined to do well in this class; I felt like I had to prove it to myself that I belonged here. So, I worked through every assignment, learning as much as I could about research databases and primary versus secondary sources.
October rolled around and my professor introduced our final paper; it was to be a twelve to fifteen page paper with an original argument drawn from at least ten outside sources. I remember reading the expectations and feeling a little hopeless; I had never written a twelve to fifteen page paper in my life! But, I buckled down and told myself that I could do it and that there’s a first time for everything.
That mentality would have been great, except I decided to pick a topic that—looking back on it—was way out of my reach. My class was centered around travel writing, so I decided I wanted to write about travel writer Mary Henrietta Kingsley. After doing some beginning research, I found out that I wanted to study the way Kingsley talked about food in her writing and what that said about her gender—pretty specific topic, I know! Needless to say, I had a little bit of trouble finding secondary sources that were actually relevant, so I made an appointment with Peggy Burge, hoping she could get me some help. I ended up meeting with her three or four times over the course of the semester as my question changed and became more nuanced.
By the end of the semester, I had gone through six or seven different versions of my question and too many drafts to count. There were times where I felt like I was getting nowhere, and even times when I felt like I had to start over completely! Once I got past those, there were times where I had a breakthrough idea and I would forget about all my past frustrations. When I turned my paper in, I remember thinking that I had no idea how, but I had actually done it! I wrote my first fifteen-page paper, and one that I was proud of, too!
I tell you all this to let you know that I know how daunting research can be when you first get into it, and that it’s totally okay to feel behind. Trust me, I’ve been there. That’s why I’m here to help you through it! It doesn’t matter if you’re just getting started and have no idea what topic to pick, or need help finding some of those (actually relevant and useful) secondary sources—I am here for you every step of the way.
Melanie Schaffer ’16 is the Peer Research Advisor. She has drop-in hours in the Learning Commons in Collins Library from 7-10 pm on Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays. You also can email her for an appointment: firstname.lastname@example.org.