Something I never thought I would get involved in at William & Mary was research. During orientation in the fall of 2018, I spoke with students and attended events that discussed the opportunities for research, but I always thought it was for STEM majors. As a government and history major, there was absolutely no way I could get involved in research, right?! And I didn’t want to get involved – I thought it was going to be a huge time commitment on top of taking classes and being involved in clubs and other groups. I also don’t like hands-on learning, and all I could picture when doing research was mixing chemicals in a lab.
However, in the spring of my sophomore year (2020), I attended the Charter Day (William & Mary’s birthday!) Talk which was a conversation between Chancellor Robert M. Gates, a William & Mary graduate, and Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. The conversation was moderated by Samantha Custer, the Director of Policy Analysis at AidData, a research lab that falls under the Global Research Institute (GRI), and a woman who I had previously met through involvement in the Williamsburg community. During the discussion, Samantha and Chancellor Gates touched on the role of Russia on the world stage, a topic in which I am especially interested. Following the discussion, I reached out to Samantha to discuss the research she and others conduct at GRI and to see if there was a way I could get involved. It turned out that GRI had recently started a research team looking at the influence of Russia in the post-Soviet and post-Yugoslavian space which lined up with my interests exactly! I was thrilled and shocked to discover that this research even existed. Following that conversation, I began working at AidData and have worked there ever since! The work has been incredibly fulfilling, and I know that the research I do is making a difference on U.S. policy and will influence how the U.S. government works with both Russia and countries in the post-Soviet/Yugoslavian space.
Entering college, I never imagined that I would be doing research AND that I would be enjoying it. GRI and AidData have provided me with incredible opportunities that range from career development, to lectures on Russia, China, and other influential countries throughout the world, and, finally, to some amazing friends who I would not have met otherwise. By reaching out and making connections, I have been able to make my time at William & Mary more fulfilling by having met many people from across campus and knowing that I am making a difference both on campus and off.
If you were to ask me freshman year if I thought you should do research, I would have responded with a resounding no! If you were to ask me now, though, if you should do research, I would tell you to go for it and to make the most of it!