Lightning Talks 2019, Week 1

At the end of an exciting opening week of the 2019 BLUE program, B21 scholars came together to participate in the first of an ongoing series of ‘lightning talks’. This event exists as an opportunity for scholars to publicly discuss the ongoing developments taking place in their research projects more succinctly. Here, scholars gain the opportunity not only to reflect on their own research, but also to vicariously make new observations about their projects through the perspectives of others. During the talks, each scholar is granted five minutes to share some of the central questions, dilemmas, and discoveries that they have come across throughout the previous week. Following each talk, other scholars are allowed a brief period to offer insights and questions pertaining to any aspect of the speaker’s talk.

During the orientation week prior to the first week of ‘real’ work, I heard one scholar comment, “I feel like I’m learning more about what my own research is actually about every time someone else comments on it.” This dynamic seemed to play out during the talks, where common experiences were acknowledged through differing perspectives. One observation which was iterated multiple times pertained to the challenge of building a vocabulary to consolidate the general scope of one’s ideas and interests. Some spoke to a certain degree of frustration that they encountered within this process, as they came to terms with the fact that they would only be able to explore a certain, finite amount of information within the span of an eight week program. Others spoke about the process of externalizing previously ‘internal’ ideas alongside others. For many, this activity proved to be at once difficult and helpful, as people found themselves challenged to articulate their interests in a more robust manner. Many scholars also noted their excitement in having the chance to engage in different conversations throughout the previous week, as once isolated ideas found the opportunity to be shared within the context of a new and intellectually dynamic community. “My brain feels nourished,” one scholar remarked.

The talks also opened some discussion pertaining to the pragmatics of beginning a large research endeavor. With access to ample time and space for intellectual exploration, many found that their initial research questions had significantly expanded in scope: a recognition which seemed to give rise to both excitement and anxiety. One commenter creatively compared this experience to that of walking into a bookstore and coming to the overwhelming realization that it will be impossible to read everything inside of it. Many took an interest in hearing more about the research methodologies of other scholars, as well as in sharing their own approaches. Here, some noted the luxury of being able to sit with material that they hadn’t previously had time to explore, while others referenced the challenge of making the transition from doing academic work within the university context to doing independent research within Building 21’s unstructured learning environment. Anita offered her insights on the matter by advising people not to become preoccupied with planning the ‘right’ way to approach their research questions, but instead to move forward head first and simply “start exploring”.

Post by Ty Cary

Ty Cary