Professor Highlight: Getting Involved in Research at USC

Each year, USC offers undergraduate students the opportunity to participate in faculty-led research projects across various academic departments and research centers on both the University Park and Health Sciences campuses. In addition, USC provides fellowships and funding, campus wide research conferences, programs for underrepresented student researchers (McNair/Gateway Scholars, WiSE, Bridging the Gaps, etc.), and graduation honors to recognize the important advances and discoveries made by students in their field of research. Students can find these research opportunities through their classes, by browsing faculty and research center profiles, or participating in summer research programs, such as Problems Without Passports. Regardless of your academic area of study, students are encouraged to pursue research in any school or field that they are passionate about.

For this week’s blog, we spoke with Professor Lyn Boyd-Judson, Ph.D., of the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, about her area of research, the benefits of participating in this academic pursuit, and how students can get involved in research projects at USC.

Dr. Boyd-Judson is the UNESCO Chair on Global Humanities and Ethics Education, executive director of the USC Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics, and executive director of the Oxford Consortium for Human Rights. Her teaching experience spans courses at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism, the USC School of International Relations, the USC School of Religion, and the Thematic Option Honors Program. Dr. Boyd-Judson is a University Fellow at the USC Center for Public Diplomacy, faculty advisor for the Shoah Foundation Institute and the USC Journal of Law and Society, and a member of Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society. Her research and teaching focus on diplomacy, ethics, religion and human rights, and international negotiation. Dr. Boyd-Judson’s recent research considers cross-cultural perspectives on the role of the university in global ethics, which was published as a chapter in Global Ethics: Politics, Institutions and Policies in 2017.

What kind of research are you conducting here at the university?

I am currently conducting research in the area of ethics and international humanitarian law, looking specifically at the Genevan Conventions, the definition of ‘humane’ and the ‘forever prisoners’ at Guantanamo Bay.

What kinds of roles are undergraduate students taking on in your lab? What achievements have they been able to make under your supervision?

I work with a dozen undergraduates to compete yearlong research papers published in our USC-UNESCO Journal of Global Humanities, Science, and Ethical Inquiry. I advised the research of Mary Cate Hickman, a student in my Problems without Passports (PWP) research course to Oxford, Belfast, and Cordoba, on the Mosque Cathedral of Cordoba, Spain. Her paper won the humanities award at the year-end USC research award competition. More information on our research collaboration can be found at this link.

What advice do you give to students who are interested in participating in research but do not know where to start?

Problems without Passports (PWP) courses are a great start—students receive hands-on guidance from faculty who are travelling with students 24/7 to help them adapt to research realities on the ground. Students are also encouraged to come on over to the Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics! We take a dozen undergraduates a year and guide their projects from first idea to publishable paper.

What types of qualities or experience are you looking for in prospective student researchers?

The qualities I am looking for in student researchers are dedication, curiosity, and respect for a working team. Prior research experience is not necessary for getting involved in research at USC.

What do you hope students get out of their research experience?

Confidence and the satisfaction of a published or award-winning paper—meaning the satisfaction of a job well done and pride in their achievement. Research projects require commitment to the work at hand, as well as the process that necessarily follows to polish a piece of work to shine.

We hope this blog helps you to start thinking about the type of research you may want to get involved in at USC. As you begin this journey, do not hesitate to reach out to any professors or research centers on campus to find out about more opportunities across the school.

Student Highlight: Pursuing a Progressive Degree at USC

This week’s student blog comes from Nisha Malhotra, a rising senior at USC from Glendale, CA. Nisha is majoring in Narrative Studies with a double-minor in Cinematic Arts and Screenwriting. She is involved in various organizations across campus, including being a writer for the TrojanVision show, “The Breakdown,” a member of the Women’s Leadership Society, and a tour guide in the Admission Center. Nisha was recently accepted to a progressive degree program here at USC and is sharing her journey through this process in her blog.

When I was a freshman, I sat down with my academic advisor in the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Tim Gotimer, and in a very Hermione-like fashion, decided to create a five-year plan for my time at USC. Five years was my timeline towards graduation because Tim had recently informed me of something called a progressive degree.

A progressive degree is an amazing opportunity offered by some of the academic departments across USC that allows a student to obtain a Master’s degree within one year of finishing their undergraduate degree. Essentially, students start taking graduate-level classes their senior year of college and then stay for one more year to finish the degree post-graduation. It is a great way to reduce the costs of applying to and attending graduate school outside of USC and it allows you to get your graduate degree a year early.

I decided my freshman year that I was going to pursue this option because my intended major, Narrative Studies, lent itself to the progressive degree of Literary Editing and Publishing (LEAP for short). Narrative Studies is an interdisciplinary major through the Dornsife English department that allows me to also take classes within the School of Cinematic Arts and the School of Dramatic Arts. I essentially study storytelling. LEAP—as a degree—seemed to fit perfectly with what I wanted to accomplish during and beyond college because it focuses on honing one’s creative voice through literary mediums and marketing that voice in the industry of publishing. Students are introduced to the world of publishing and encouraged to participate in it, as a writer and editor themselves.

Over time, my career path seemed to change. Through the cinema classes I was taking for my major, I fell in love with screenwriting and added two minors in Screenwriting and Cinematic Arts. I decided that I wanted to shift my storytelling abilities towards the mediums of television and film. I learned about the entertainment industry through internships, classes, and peers, and began to understand that, for a career in this field, graduate school was not necessary.

However, there was still a part of me that held on to the dream I’d had freshman year. I have always loved writing and the opportunity to help create stories for the next generation—to be able to find the next Harry Potter, to be able to foster more diverse authors’ works—still called to me. Therefore, towards the end of my junior year, I went to talk to Tim again to discuss my senior year plans and to ask about the LEAP degree application, which was due in a month.

Tim was my ultimate guide and counselor through the application process. He sat down with me and explained all the different facets of the application, including the letters of recommendation, the personal statement, the proposed course schedule, and my resume. He was my go-to resource for anything progressive-degree related and he always met with me to go over what I would need. While in the process of obtaining my letters of recommendation, I also reached out to some of the professors who would be teaching the masters’ courses in LEAP. All of them made time for me to discuss what the personal statement needed to sound like and, in the span of a week, I was able to complete that part of my application. On the day the application was due, Tim was even kind enough to go over my completed application one more time, and caught a tiny error I had made, fixing it there on the spot.

After a month of waiting, a letter arrived in the beginning of May, accepting me into the program. Though I was excited to be accepted to the program of my dreams, I still had some hesitation about relinquishing—for the time being, at least—my other dreams of working in entertainment. To address this uncertainty, I contacted English Professor Brighde Mullins, who would be teaching the first course my senior fall semester for LEAP. She was very willing to talk and extremely encouraging on the phone. She understood my reservations about giving up cinema to pursue publishing and assured me that I would be able to emphasize my publishing skills in the entertainment industry, as there is a huge market for books that option off movie rights. I would also be able to strengthen my own writer’s voice through creative writing exercises in various classes and even take a class that required me to intern at a publishing company. My heart soared; I realized I would actually be able to have it all, to be able to pursue both my love of publishing and film at the same time through this incredible program.

I decided to enroll in the program the same afternoon I spoke with her. I hope to gain a better sense of the publishing industry through the master’s program and to develop my own work as a writer. I aspire to make lasting connections with the other incredible people accepted into the LEAP program and I am so excited to walk at graduation in 2020 with my Master’s degree!

Making the Big Decision

Believe it or not, admission decision season is finally upon us. It’s time to rip/click open your admission decisions and figure out where you will be spending the next four years of your life. This will be a time of great excitement (and maybe some heartbreak), but it is just the beginning of the amazing journey you will soon embark on. That being said, you are likely to have some major decisions to make this coming month, so we at the USC Admission Office want to provide some factors that you might want to consider as you determine which school is the right fit for you and your academic, social, and professional aspirations! Good luck everyone!

Financial Package/Cost
Around the time you receive your admission decision, you will also find out about any scholarships you were offered or the type of financial aid package the school has prepared for you. This information is very important for you to consider, along with your family, to determine if you have the resources you need to attend a particular school. It is never too early to sit down with your family and have an honest discussion about finances and what you can realistically afford to pay and/or borrow to cover all of your educational expenses. If there have been changes to your family’s financial situation since submitting the FAFSA and CSS Profile (such as loss of home value, changes in employment or earnings, medical expenses, etc.), you may be able to appeal your initial financial aid package. The financial aid office can help you review a full list of exceptions and special circumstances and work with you to make sure your financial aid is truly reflective of your needs.

Location and Size
This one might sound obvious, but it’s important to think about what part of the country you want to live in and how big (or small) of a student body that you want to be a part of. Whether you are looking to get as far away from home as possible or you want the option of bringing your laundry basket home on the weekends, it is important to take the time now to determine how comfortable you feel with the distance you might have to travel to college. Additional factors you might want to consider include travel expenses, the ability to have a car on campus, the type of housing available for students, and so on. In terms of size, there will be different advantages of both large and small schools, so you should start to think about the type of environment that you learn and socialize best in and how you might try to navigate each type of campus.

Academics and Extracurriculars
Whenever I say this during high school visits it garners a lot of laughs, but make sure you apply to (and enroll) at a school that offers the major or majors you are interested in pursuing! If a school does not offer a major or at least classes in an area you think you may want to study, you will need to determine whether you are fine with foregoing this option in your education. Looking at lists of majors may also get you excited about the different areas of study your school offers or help inspire you to pursue something you did not even know existed when you applied. Also, pay attention to the options that are available to students on and off campus, including clubs, recreational sports, research opportunities, arts and entertainment, study abroad, and volunteer work. Finding out the policy for starting new clubs on campus could also help you think about this factor if you do not see a particular interest already represented at the school. These kinds of experiences may be just as influential as the classes you take and make your college experience more meaningful and lasting.

Campus Culture and Community
Since this school will be your “home away from home” for the next four years, it is helpful to get a sense of what students are like on campus and the types of cultural, religious, and other communities you might be able to tap into there. The transition to college can be trying for anyone, so you might want to see for yourself how inclusive the campus feels and the types of resources you can check in with to make the adjustment period more manageable. If you cannot make it to the campus itself, find other ways to learn about the student body, including looking through the school’s social media channels, reading the campus paper online, contacting student ambassadors, or checking the campus calendar to see the types of events held on campus. This factor will likely be the hardest one to quantify, but it might be one of the strongest indicators of your ability to sustain and succeed at your college of choice.

Professional Outcomes
It might seem a bit premature to already be thinking about post-graduation options (especially when you’re still waiting to graduate from high school!), but if you already have an idea of the professional path you want to take or you are just curious about what alumni tend to do after graduation, this is another factor you may want to consider. Career Centers on campus often track this type of information and provide vast resources on the types of internships, job fairs, and career listings that students can access both during and beyond their time on campus. Explore the types of supports schools offer for students preparing for graduate school or various career fields and see if there are minors or clubs on campus that could introduce you to professionals in the field and help you develop the skills or knowledge you need to stand out. Schools love to (humble) brag about the notable alumni that have graduated from their schools and LinkedIn allows you to see where people at various companies earned their degree.

What Does My Gut Tell Me?
At the end of the day, it really comes down to you and what you feel in your heart (or brain)! As cheesy as it may seem, you might already have a sense of the college that feel right for you, but you are unsure if you are ready to take the plunge. Whether it is the school you always dreamed of attending, or one you were fortunate to discover through the application process, you probably felt something meaningful when you stepped on campus, reached out to a current student, or navigated whatever other resources you had at your disposal to learn about the school. Do not be afraid to trust yourself and all of the work you put into determining which schools to apply to and know that there really is no wrong decision about where you will pursue your education.

We wish all of our applicants the best of luck during this exciting time!