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Social Scientist Reporting for Duty: Things I Never Would Have Thought About Senior Project Four Years Ago

April 04, 2017

by Hailey Marino

With both pride and disbelief, I announce to you the official submission of my first draft of my entire senior project.

                  Phew.

Senior project was something I had feared for my entire undergraduate career, starting during my information session with Admissions as a prospective student. I never thought I could pull it off, nor did I think I would be prepared to when the time came. An entire professional, comprehensive, several part project? By myself? For two semesters?

I didn’t know it at the time, but I could relax on the topic. By the time I got to writing my senior project, I was ready for the challenge. Having grown and been cracked open in my first three years of school, I felt appropriately bored with the status quo in the mastery of my discipline. I was ready to dive deep, and I had what I needed to do it.

As a sociology and gender studies double major, my senior project format is a research study on a topic intersecting these two academic areas. This consists of collecting existing data to write a multiple themed literature review, decipher the most appropriate research methods to conduct research, do the fieldwork to collect some never-before-studied data, and analyze it to find groundbreaking discoveries within the social world. Then, write it all up into a cute several dozen page document. No big deal.

Luckily, our required Junior Seminar class taught me the basics. I learned, tediously, how to write a literature review, conduct research, and collect data. I learned how to be a social scientist outside of the classroom, using my education thus far as a framework to expand upon. Although studying exactly what I wanted to is exciting, it’s also perfectly challenging. I’m grateful for the feeling that my hand was held just the right amount for me to feel supported in learning how to test these new waters.

Sociology, the study of the social world, combined with the discipline of gender studies that focuses on themes around gender identity, sexuality, feminist theory, and so on, leaves me with studying the social concept of gender. This left me with an array of topic options. I considered studying how masculinity operates within the Stood culture, the student run safer space on campus where events take place every weekend. I pictured myself sitting on the mismatched couches while analyzing people’s behavior as a fly on the wall. I considered studying women’s communities and holding interviews to collect data on their relationships with community to things like empowerment, connection, and agency. I considered studying transgressive masculinity in Purchase’s unique and quirky culture, where I could interview people and have them put their gender performance into their own words. Eventually, I chose the perfect topic for me with some help from my advisors along the way, and felt tingly in my body at the excitement of getting to tackle it. Clearly, this was a very different feeling than I had expected when plunging head-first into college four years ago, dreading this moment from the start.

Surprisingly inspired by my dense sociological theory course that was a requirement during my junior year, I decided to base my entire project around gender theory and take a different approach to research. I would, I decided, research classic and modern feminist theory and link it to my experiences negotiating feminist applications in my everyday life. To do this, I wrote three personal vignettes of moments in my life that I’ve felt myself at a crossroads in feminist vulnerability, unsure how to proceed with the nuances of personal relationships meeting the way that academic and social feminist theories have taught me to think about the world.

Although this is a recency bias, I like to think that once I chose my topic, it was smooth sailing. That’s not entirely true. Senior project gave me the opportunity to study what I chose, which is fun and new. Anything new requires trial and error. Maybe more error than you’d expect. I won’t deny that I have a folder on my computer labeled “Useless, Probably,” from all the nights I sat up dumping my brain and thoughts into documents with passion and soul just to scrap them later. After a few rounds of this game, I began to embrace it and now understand that writing and discarding, trying and failing, or getting it wrong is part of the process that brings you to the right.

Two semesters later, 40 days from graduating, and three weeks premature from my due date, I’m proud to say I’ve been brought to the right. This process has drawn brilliance from me that I never would have expected of myself as a freshman. Now, it’s obvious to me. Senior projects are available in the library, and mine, titled “Feminist Consciousness at Vulnerable Crossroads,” will be available there too, after one more revision session and likely several more careful read-throughs before final submission. I’ll be graduated and moving on when it is uploaded to Purchase College Library’s digital database. Yet, my blood, sweat, and tears in the library’s archives is just one of many little pieces of myself that I’ll leave scattered around Purchase after I leave, proof that I am the person I hoped I would be four years ago.