As a junior, I am halfway through my undergraduate studies. During this time as a UNH student, my career goals have vacillated significantly. Reflecting back on my research, it’s easy to see that the wildly different projects I’ve undertaken are a reflection of the general uncertainty that has colored my college career.


To provide a brief overview, I began my research journey through a Research Experience and Apprenticeship Program (REAP) grant in the summer after my first year of college. This project involved comparing Brazilian and Salvadoran public polling data to evaluate the stability of democracy in Latin America. I then worked on a J-Term Undergraduate Research Award (URA) focused on Catholic political thought after the French Revolution. Both the REAP and URA projects were funded by the Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research, which offers the best opportunities on campus for aspiring researchers at every point in their journey. My current research projects are on domestic violence law in New Hampshire and the effect of violence on voter choice in Brazil, respectively. It’s difficult—if not impossible—to draw a throughline between these projects!

As there is little appearance of a coherent body of research, I can’t attribute a theme to my undergraduate research as I had initially hoped to do. Early in my freshman year, I figured that this theme would feed into my future career, helping pad my resume with relevant experience and prepare me for my professional life. Sadly, I have yet to find a career that specifically seeks out people with research backgrounds in Brazilian politics, domestic violence law, and Catholic political thought.

Developing highly specialized knowledge may be the right path for some undergraduates. For example, those hoping to be accepted into a specific PhD program may want to find their niche early on and create a portfolio of research that will make them a competitive applicant. Some students, such as those who are part of a lab, may have little choice but to conduct consistent research on the same topic for all four years. Finding your niche early on and building a body of research that reflects this subject matter might be the intuitive approach.

Still, from my own experience as a researcher of disparate and mostly unrelated topics, I believe that the less thematically coherent approach can be equally valuable. Across my research projects, I have worked with four professors from different disciplines. This allowed me to build relationships with faculty both in and outside of my home in the political science department. I was able to see, firsthand, each professor’s unique approach to research, garnering diverse skills along the way. Not only was the content of my research unique in each project, but the requisite skills varied. From working with human subjects to generating statistical models in SPSS to poring over political theory treatises, the unique skill sets I honed with each project have made me a more well-rounded researcher and student.

In retrospect, I am glad that I did not pigeonhole myself into one narrow research interest. The wide-ranging approach that I’ve taken has allowed me to be experimental and get a better feel of my distinct interests in order to decide which are worth pursuing in greater depth in the future. I am still not absolutely certain of my postgraduate plans and will certainly continue with research that, to any observer, might seem out of left field. I encourage other students, particularly in their first year of college, to use research projects as opportunities to find where their passions lie—regardless of how far-reaching they might seem.