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Reflections on a Symposium

Submitted by Selim S. Kuru on November 29, 2018 - 11:50am
Ryan Robinson

NELC Major Ryan Robinson's reflections on a symposium where he presented a paper on his experience at an excavation site in Turkey

As an aspiring academic with graduation on the horizon, my mind has been on the realm of academia and the ways by which I can enter it. From the outside, academia often looks like a daunting, endless stream of names, books, and articles. It’s intimidating; finding a way in can feel nearly impossible from my undergraduate perspective. Furthermore, it’s easy to feel like I am alone in my journey to enter academia. Imagining myself as the one person doing what I’m doing is demoralizing. Yet there are opportunities to break in – and fellow aspirational researchers on similar paths – out there in the world. With the help of NELC faculty I was able to find one chance and make the most out of it.

This fall, I travelled to Harvard University to present at the Young Investigator Symposium, a conference for student researchers of the Near East jointly hosted by Harvard and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. I spoke about the research I’ve been conducting here at UW based on findings from the Turkish archaeological site of Çadır Höyük. Before, during, and after the event, I was able to shake hands with the scholars who currently lead the discussions in my field, who were not so daunting in person, as well as members of my own fresh generation of researchers, who do in fact exist.

 This was an incredible experience for many reasons. Of course, getting the opportunity to meet the established names in my field was both energizing and helpful. Networking is not just for business majors. Second, I learned that I’m not alone in my studies. There are quite a few undergraduates and fledgling graduate students who are thinking about the same things I think about. It was reassuring to see that others were struggling alongside me. The fact that our disparate research projects brought us all to the same intersection helped me realize I was on the right track. Finally, I was invigorated by sharing my research, goals, and conclusions. Discussing and debating my ideas shed new light on them and again reaffirmed my belief in myself as an aspiring scholar.

Attending this symposium helped me realize the validity of my academic dreams. I’m thankful for Stephanie Selover, my adviser and the NELC professor who brought this event to me, and for Gabe Skoog, the NELC Department’s undergrad adviser and someone who offered advice and assurances. Today, I can say I’m even more excited to bring the knowledge and methods given to me by the NELC Department into the real world.