Undergraduate Student Eliza Sayers wins Research Grant
We caught up with English undergraduate student Eliza Sayers, who is the winner of one of the University's Mentored Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities Grants. Eliza talked with us about the grant, her research project, and the experience of being an English major.
Congratulations on winning the Mentored Undergraduate Research Grant! Can you tell us about the grant and what it means to have won one?
The award is a way for the university to promote meaningful research or creative activity by first- or second-year students. You apply with a mentor who will guide your research or creative work, and you can choose to work as a team on the same project or on different projects. In my case, I'm working on one project while my mentor Eve Polley—who is a lecturer in Comparative Humanities—is pursuing a separate project but will be overseeing my work.
Ultimately, you’ll present your research at the Undergraduate Research Showcase in the Fall or at the Research Conference in the Spring. Also, when you get the award, as a mentee you receive $500 to fund your research and your mentor will receive $1000.
The way to apply is to come up with a research idea and write a proposal in collaboration with your mentor. It was honestly a lot easier than I thought. At first, I thought of academic research as this big scary monster, because I’d never done it. I didn't know how to get into it, but my mentor basically showed me how research works and how to get started. So I would tell anyone who wants to go for this award: work with a good mentor and apply. The application process is pretty straightforward, which really helps too.
What kind of project are you embarking on that the grant will sponsor?
For this research grant I will explore how anti-Semitic imagery in early-1900s film has impacted contemporary imagery in film. I am interested in how early cinema promoted anti-Semitic ideations that are still present in contemporary culture, even in works like Harry Potter. The project emerged from a film interpretation class taught by professor Eve Polley, in which we watched the movie Nosferatu, a German expressionist film from 1922. For my paper for this class I did some research and found out that some scholars say that the character of Nosferatu—which is basically a variation on Dracula—is based on a lot of harmful anti-Semitic imagery. That was really intriguing to me, so I wrote a paper about that topic and my professor really liked it, and later she encouraged me to use it to apply for the Mentored Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities Grant.
Besides this grant, what have been some of the most meaningful experiences you've had as an English major so far?
I am a sophomore currently and I've taken a number of classes in poetry and creative writing. Probably the most meaningful thing for me has been the relationships with my professors, because you can pretty much ask them anything or email them and they will take the time to answer thoughtfully. For example, I've taken two classes with Dr. Sarah Strickley in the Creative Writing Program. Currently, I’m taking her class in which we all work on the literary journal Miracle Monocle. That has been incredibly rewarding, to be taught by someone who’s had so much experience with publishing and then to actually work on a literary journal.
I’ve also had the chance to extend this work on Miracle Monocle through my undergraduate internship next semester, which is another great opportunity for English majors. The undergraduate internship is worth three credit hours and you can go and apply for one. Or a professor might reach out to you about it and put you in touch with Dr. Karen Chandler, who manages the internship programs. Then you can enroll in it like a class and you get to do an internship at a place of your choice. So I'll be doing doing an internship with Miracle Monocle in the spring, working on their podcast in addition to the regular literary journal publishing work.
What would you like to do with your English degree in the future?
That’s something I think about a lot! Besides my English courses, I’m also doing the Individualized Major, which has allowed me to add film, communications, and business to my coursework. Although it’s all up in the air still, I think at first I might go into the business world and maybe work in advertising or as a copy editor, while also working on my own writing.
And I hope to eventually become a professor myself, by publishing my own work and teaching related courses or perhaps creative writing or film. But I'm giving myself a lot of leeway, and that's what's so great about being an English major: you can really hone in on whatever you would like to do. And that's even more true with the three new tracks that the English Department now offers in Literature, Creative Writing, and Professional Writing.
Being an English major just gives you so many opportunities to figure out how you talk, how you write, how others write, and how you can interact with this giant thing that is the English language—that's why I like it so much. And for anyone who wants to become a teacher or a professor or go into business, it's a great choice because you can really work on your communication skills.