Doing the Final Summation Essay
What Should I Get from the Summer Independent Study Research?
Framing Your Summation
Your final essay or project description can be shorter and different from a full research essay. I want you to do a synthesis of your readings and research threads, pulling together the main “take aways” from the readings and what you’ve learned. This is a good process because it directs your attention to summing up main points in your own descriptions, outlining the theory and methods you’ve encountered, and taking stock of what you’ve learned. It’s also good to mention new topics, ideas, approaches that have opened up for you, and what would be needed to do further work on the topic(s).
Bibliographic “Competence” as a Researcher
An important outcome for independent research on a new topic is getting a sense of the major bibliography in the field. What are the key texts, theories, state of research, approaches, and arguments that have defined the field (or intersection of fields in interdisciplinary studies)? This is the first step in doing serious research as graduate students and ongoing in your careers. This means that you have to know and be accountable for dealing with the works, statements, and accumulated research that defines a field. Building this is important for establishing your credibility when you write about a topic, and shows how you enter a longstanding conversation, debate, or research problem as a member of a research community. (We always enter a field midstream and have to find our way in the flow of accumulated knowledge and information.) Developing this marks your transition from student to member of a research community (though we never stop being students!). Developing your understanding of the major research and arguments in a field is also the first step in positioning your own argument(s) and research in the wider ongoing conversation of the field.
So, one important “take away” from your summer research should include your sense of the defining bibliography on the topic. Of course, you wouldn’t have time to read all the foundational books, articles, or other works, but you can develop a sense of what the leading people in the field are talking about, what they assume has been done in research and argument leading up to their own work. This can also help enormously in your orientation to the field and a preparation for further research and writing. In practical terms, this means including a bibliography at the end of the summation essay, including texts/works that you have discovered are important but didn’t have time to get to. You can also frame parts of your summation as a review of the key works that have defined the field.