I am spending this Thanksgiving Break more than 7000 miles away from home, in Beijing, China, conducting research for my senior thesis. As a joint political science and art history major, I am combining my training in both disciplines in this capstone project. Focusing on the intersection of politics and architecture, I am investigating how the development of the National Mall in Washington, DC and Tiananmen Square in Beijing reflects the different political ideals at the foundation of each regime but also how the historical-political moment in which the spaces were conceived led the leaders of each country to pursue similar political ends, despite the difference in their ideology.
I am spending 8 days here in the Chinese capital, visiting the municipal archives, museums, and libraries that hold documents dealing with the construction of Tiananmen Square in the 1950s. I am staying in a traditional neighborhood of alleyways and courtyards, which is allowing me to see a side of Beijing I’ve never seen before. I am, of course, spending a lot of time in the square, to experience the space for myself and to examine the architecture with a critical eye. The best part about this trip? Middlebury is paying.
This trip to Beijing would not have been possible without the generous grant I received from the Undergraduate Research Office (URO). Every fall and spring, Middlebury College students have the opportunity to apply for senior research project supplements of up to $1500 from the URO. These supplements are meant to eliminate financial barriers for seniors working on their capstone projects and provide support in addition to what many academic departments provide for these projects. The funding can be used for anything from trips overseas to see an art historical site to the purchase of pipettes to hiring a translator to translate documents critical to one’s research.
When they hear the term “liberal arts college,” many prospective students and families, especially those oriented towards the sciences, assume that Middlebury lags far behind larger universities in our capacity to do research. That is simply not true. The grants from the URO are one example of how Middlebury is supporting its students in their independent research endeavors. Each spring, Middlebury hosts a spring student research symposium, at which any student can share the research they’ve worked on in the past year with the whole college community through oral presentations and poster boards. Every summer, over 100 research assistants work on campus full-time directly with faculty members, mostly in the sciences, but also in fields like political science, philosophy, and English.
Far from being disadvantaged, students wishing to conduct research at Middlebury have more direct access to faculty and equipment than they would at larger research institutions. If you work hard, you can start gaining research experience during your first year at Middlebury. Co-authorship of papers by faculty and students is not an uncommon phenomenon. Middlebury students regularly travel to conferences to present projects they’ve done inside and outside the classroom, as I hope to do with my senior thesis in February. For now, I’ve got to get back to searching the shelves here at the National Library of China in Beijing.