Field Notes

By Mary K. Zajac

Undergraduates Talk About the Research Process


The Political Beat

Can the music you listen to give a clue to your political identity? Pandora Internet Radio thinks so. That the online music site has become a powerful tool for political fundraising and advertising is just one of several intriguing aspects that political science major Rachel McCoy ’16 is discovering in the course of her Woodrow Wilson Research Fellowship.

McCoy’s project, The Internet Age: The Democratic Party’s Use of the Internet in Grassroots Fundraising, examines how the Democratic Party has historically used the Internet, specifically email, to power grassroots fundraising. She is also examining potential and evolving uses of the Internet in future campaigns.

“I was intrigued by the way the Internet has reshaped the political landscape, particularly in recent presidential campaigns, which have taken on new dimensions through the use of Twitter and other social media,” says McCoy.

Her research has included a deep dive into the growing number of scholarly and news articles that offer analysis of social media and politics. She also attended a conference for political consultants that included seminars and workshops in the use of Internet resources. McCoy is conducting interviews with individuals, such as campaign finance managers and digital directors, who work on the front lines of political elections.

As with many research projects, McCoy noticed a shift in her original focus once she began her research. While her initial interest centered more on how candidates communicate their message via the Internet, she is now becoming fascinated with fundraising research, something she plans to pursue on a professional level.

“Originally, I wanted to work in political communications, doing advertising and speechwriting,” McCoy says. “But my research has made me realize that I want to work in political finance, so this project holds a special place for me.”

—Mary K. Zajac

Understanding Schizophrenia

By nature, Yi Shao ’15 is curious. So when she embarked on a research study that examines the effectiveness of a drug on debilitating symptoms of schizophrenia, she wanted to learn everything she could about the disease.

The study itself uses a rat model to test an antiepileptic drug to see if it might improve some cognitive impairment in individuals with schizophrenia.

“At the beginning of the project, I did not have much knowledge of the disease,” says Shao, recipient of a Woodrow Wilson Research Fellowship. “Since I wanted to better understand the true clinical impact faced by schizophrenic patients, I visited a local psychiatric ward.” There, Shao listened to patients describe side effects from their medication and the social isolation they face when they choose not to take medication.

“It was then that I truly understood how impactful my research efforts could be for these patients and their families,” says Shao. “I always think back to my time at the clinic to remind me of what my project aspires to improve for these patients.”

In addition to exploring the science of schizophrenia, Shao also wanted to understand the disease from a sociological perspective.

“I researched the history of the medicalization of schizophrenia for one of my courses,” she says. “This has allowed me to better understand the complexity of current attitudes toward mental health issues.”

—Kate Pipkin

Face to Face

Using modern technology to explore the past is the focus of a freshman seminar in the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum. Taught by the museum’s curator, Sanchita Balachandran, the course gives first-year students the opportunity to develop research questions and to collaborate with specialists across disciplines to find the answers.

The object of their research? Two ancient Roman Egyptian mummy portraits, currently on loan to the museum from the Eton College Myers Collection in Windsor, England.

According to Balachandran, students in the course are learning how “an interdisciplinary study of two mummy portraits dated to the second century CE allows us to approach the ancient contexts in which these objects were used and made.”

Follow the students’ research on their blog:

Arabian Days and Nights

John Durovsik ’16 has always been fascinated with the Gulf states, namely Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. With a Woodrow Wilson Research Fellowship, he combined his attraction to this part of the world with his studies in art, architecture, nation-building, and globalization. A history of art major with a museums and society minor, Durovsik is researching the emergence of new museums in the Gulf to see how they are received by global and local audiences, and to study how cities can introduce art institutions into a geography that previously had no such establishments.