Hanna Holborn Gray Research Fellowship Offers a First Look at Long-term Independent Research

Posted January 20th, 2011 at 12:41 pm.

2010 HHG Fellow Jen Rajchel

2010 Hanna Holborn Gray Fellow Jen Rajchel ’11

Jen Rajchel ’11 spent last summer investigating ways in which digital media transform the relationship between author and reader. Alexandra Kaplan ’11 compared postindustrial economic development in two Boston-area exurbs. Clare Mullaney ’11 used queer theory to explore the impact of clothing on the formation of female icons, while Ariel Rosenstock ’11 looked at four major urban zoological parks’ relationships to their surrounding cities.

These are just a few examples of the varied projects funded each year by the Hanna Holborn Gray ’50 Research Fellowship, which gives rising juniors and seniors  the opportunity to conduct independent research in the humanities and humanistic social sciences during the summer months, with guidance and support from experienced scholars.

The Hanna Holborn Gray Research Fellowship is one of several programs that sponsor summer research opportunities for Bryn Mawr students. Applications for the Hanna Holborn Gray Research Fellowship are due Wednesday, Jan. 26, at 5 p.m. For more information, see the Summer Funding website.

The fellowship is made possible through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in honor of Bryn Mawr alumnae Hanna Holborn Gray ’50.

Each fellow receives a $3,600 grant to support her research.  Often students use the fellowship as a way to jump-start work on their senior theses, but the program is intended to support in-depth research for any long-term project relevant to a student’s academic interests.

Each fellow works with a faculty advisor who guides her through what is most likely her first experience in long-term, independent research.  But before diving into the stacks, Hanna Holborn Gray fellows join Mellon Mayes Undergraduate Fellows during a two-day orientation where faculty and staff members speak to the logistical, academic, and personal challenges all scholars face within research.  The fellows also meet one-on-one with reference librarians to discuss their specific projects.

Ariel Rosenstock ’11 said that the most important piece of advice she received at the orientation was to “try and write something everyday.”

Because independent research can be a daunting and lonely task, two graduate-student mentors maintain weekly contact with the fellows throughout the summer, either in person or online, to provide them with both academic and personal support. Fellows working on campus or in the area attend weekly discussions guided by the mentors, while those farther afield stay in touch with the group via the Hanna Holborn Gray Blackboard site.

“At the [weekly] meetings, we encourage the fellows to be open about how things are going with their projects, to feel free to vent their frustrations, and to celebrate their exciting discoveries,” said Lesley Shipley, a history of art graduate student who has worked as a program mentor for five years.

Mentors and fellows alike felt that the wide number of disciplines represented within the group all provided different lenses that helped fellows refine their research questions and formulate new ones they had not considered before.

Overall, all participants in the Hanna Holborn Gray program are affected by the experience, not just the undergraduate Fellows.

“I know that my own approach to research has benefited from my involvement in the program,” said Sarah Scheckter, a graduate student in clinical development and psychology, now in her third year as a mentor.  “I learn a lot from the students, and find that the discussions we have over the summer really help me conceptualize my research in new ways and with more creativity.”

Shipley agrees. “The fellows have so much energy and passion for their topics that it is infectious!”

Indeed, the Hanna Holborn Gray Fellowship program is transformative on all levels of the academic ladder. It is a demonstration that collaboration and community-hallmarks of a Bryn Mawr education-create nuanced and original research.

Says Clare Mullaney ’11:  “I found that engaging in discussions with the other fellows was incredibly rewarding. Even now as I’m embarking on my thesis, they continue to offer suggestions and different perspectives concerning my project that help me think about my work in even deeper and more complex ways.”

—Katherine Bakke ’11

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