Dodging the Bullet: Advice and Reflections on First Research Paper

First Year Seminar students were selected to present their research findings at the CAFÉ Symposium (Photo Taylor-Jo Russo/The Gettysburgian)

First Year Seminar students were selected to present their research findings at the CAFÉ Symposium (Photo Taylor-Jo Russo/The Gettysburgian)

By Taylor-Jo Russo, Staff Writer

Imagine you’re a first-year in college and you receive an assignment detailing a research paper that should be approximately 15 pages. At that precise moment, you can’t even imagine a finished paper, let alone a Cupola nomination and invitation to present your research at a Symposium filled with faculty, including the president of your college. Well, that was me five months ago, and now that I have gone through the process, I can reflect on the opportunity to present a research paper in college and offer my advice to others.

First off, research in college is completely different from research in high school. There are no Google searches, no Wikipedia glances, and no filler or “fluff” articles. While gathering my research and before writing the paper, I read and examined 18 books and numerous articles from scholarly databases. However, this was after I had a sense of direction. When I was first handed the broad assignment, I had no idea about the direction it would take.

The assignment was a part of my First Year Seminar: Death and the Meaning of Life. The research paper was about any topic related to death, life, or circumstances surrounding those options. I had the idea to study reincarnation because of a book I read over the summer called, “Many Lives, Many Masters” by Brian Weiss. I had found inspiration for a topic, however I still had no direction, which was necessary to complete the research paper. By suggestion, I went to the library and discussed my idea with a research assistant, and if not for her, my final paper would not have reached its full potential.

Once I had direction, I began the lengthy and extensive process of deciding what sources to use and where my paper was going to go. Let me just say, there is no purpose in planning the direction a research paper will take because it changes after every source and is finalized following further consideration. So, after I reviewed over 22 sources, I was able to start thinking about the flow of my paper and began a first draft. To my surprise, 15 pages came easily and my final paper ended up being 18 pages including sources.

My research paper explored the belief in reincarnation in an alternative form: past-life regression. Past-life regression involves hypnotization where participants recall memories from past-lives or in other words, incarnations. Often used for therapeutic purposes, past-life regression therapy has been known to help people overcome anxieties, fears, deal with everyday concerns, and understand phenomena. Participants who understand and accept reincarnation in the form of past-life regression, based on my research, can undergo an amazingly beneficial, transformative, and meaningful experience.

For some, past-life regression may seem far-fetched and even out of their comfort zone, but that was my purpose for writing a paper on the topic. Throughout the process of writing my research paper, I was able to contextualize and solidify my majors. I am now a declared psychology and philosophy double major, with a prospective economics minor. The paper helped open my eyes to my desire to consistently accept differences, explore unfamiliar topics, and attempt to find meaning in all things.

All in all, this daunting project had a fantastic result, not just a well-accepted paper, but a meaningful experience for me personally. I was nominated to participate in CAFÉ Symposium where I was able to passionately discuss my findings with students and faculty, practicing my communication skills and enriching my mind. My paper is also currently being submitted to the Cupola. Both opportunities seemed intimidating and far-fetched, yet they are now realities.

In conclusion, this was a great experience for me, but it did come with many challenges and questions. Here are a few pieces of advice that I wish I knew before writing my paper and taking on this project:

  1. Don’t get overwhelmed by things that seem daunting; they will always pan out.
  2. Don’t be afraid to seek help and use resources—especially research assistants in the library. They can be a big help.
  3. Databases are your best friend and libraries are too. Don’t be afraid to get a large collection of books. Indexes are also very helpful.
  4. Try to let your research guide your paper, as opposed to your own opinions and thoughts.
  5. Say yes to opportunities, even if they seem stressful or taxing.
  6. Once you finish researching, you are the expert. Find comfort in this when presenting your research to audiences.
  7. Put in the work and it will pay off.
  8. Lastly, let your research paper be more meaningful than just an assignment. You never know what opportunities will arise.

As an aside, I would highly recommend FYS 150: Death and the Meaning of Life to any first-year. This life-changing course was filled with amazing opportunities and a truly compassionate professor: Buz Myers. Good luck with your future research endeavors!

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Author: Taylor Jo Russo

Taylor (Taylor-Jo) Russo '22 is a staff writer for The Gettysburgian who writes primarily for the features section where she covers current events, discussions, and more. She is from Princeton, New Jersey and loves going on adventures and trying new things. She is majoring in Psychology and Philosophy and minoring in Economics. Follow her on Instagram @taylorjorusso.

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