How Independent Research Made Me a Better Student

Briana Tamasi

Arriving on the first day of class, I could feel the nervous energy in the room. Our professor introduced herself and began to go over the syllabus, making sure to mention, repeatedly, the stress, late nights, and sweat that would accompany this class. As she began to discuss our semester, I felt totally unprepared for what I was about to attempt. As she continued reading her list, my brain shifted into panic mode. A 15-page research paper, 25 academic sources, choosing a topic, finding a gap in research, learning APA grammar and citations—I had never done any of these things before.

I had heard a lot about the “Communications Perspectives” class each student was required to pass before beginning upper-level courses. The title seemed vague, but as I began to meet with professors, academic advisors, and my peers, it became clear that this course would be no easy feat. In fact, I was told the average grade for the class was a “C”! A semester-long, APA-style, writing-intensive course was at my doorstep. Despite my academic success up to that point, the pressure to pass the class weighed heavily on my mind.

When we received the first research assignment my nerves took hold. Normally, I’d procrastinate a while before starting, but instead, I began the assignment that day. I read closely, I annotated my articles meticulously, and I completed the assignment well before it was due. I learned quickly (by observing the faux pas of my classmates) that there would be no cramming in projects and papers the night before and getting a passing grade. Breezing through worksheets and assignments simply was not an option. I constantly had to budget my time and plan ahead.



Despite my nerves, this leap into the unknown transformed me as a student. I went from being a quiet, sit-in-the-back kind of student to one brave enough to approach my TA, ask questions, and arrange meetings with her until I understood the assignments. Finding my academic strengths led to a boost of motivation and self-confidence needed to power through the semester, and the fear of failing such a difficult class drove me to put forth my best efforts.

 

As the semester progressed, I found that the organization of the class and the nature of the assignments helped me find my academic strengths. I began the class with a fear of the unknown: researching one topic for an entire semester, being graded strictly for grammar, having to hand-write citations for books and journals and websites instead of using an online citation generator. But I ended the semester with an “A” in the course and a newfound confidence in my research, writing, and communication abilities.



My overall success in this course led to a job in the Communication Studies department as a librarian and tutor for future Communication Perspectives students. Now, I assist them through the difficulties (emotional and academic) of Communication Perspectives and APA-style writing. Conquering this course opened my eyes to the many unanswered questions in my field. It inspired me to ask even more questions and created an excitement to learn the answers. This course helped me feel more comfortable venturing into the unknown on both academic and personal levels. Learning how to do research properly has given me the confidence I need to find the answers I seek in any situation.