by Alex Melnick
arts & life editor
Does this sound like you? It’s midnight, and you’re pacing the library anxiously. You may or may not be heavily breathing and feeling like you want to collapse into the fetal position around a fortress of books. You probably have the plague that’s been going around campus, but you also might have a research paper due soon.
Millsaps and the P&W can give you knowledge, which is like a sort of penicillin for the plague of papers. Together, we can all learn how to research topics like a boss. (Actually, bosses don’t research. They hire people to do that. So really, here’s how to learn how to research so you will one day be a boss.)
Primarily, you need to “find something you love, and let it kill you.” This quote by Charles Bukowski has led me down many a rabbit hole to fulfilling and life-affirming research. (It also has led me to drinking 10 cups of coffee in one day and crying holding a book of Michel Foucault while on the floor whispering, “We don’t even know what we don’t know we don’t know,” but that’s beside the point.) If you’re embarking on a research project or paper, you need to research and explore something you love or at least really like.
Think of academia as a dating pool: You need a topic you’d be at least friends with benefits with. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with this paper, and thus, it is kind of like a relationship.
Once you’ve proposed your topic, head on over to the library. I don’t care what time it is, get up and walk over there. You can come back to finish this article later. The library is your best resource. There’s nothing quite like having physical, tangible information right in front of you. (You can also check out a lot of them and fraudulently make yourself feel productive by organizing them.) If you’re too sweaty and/or nervous to go in unaided, ask the librarians for help! Rachel Renick is one of the librarians, and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, you can take your life into your own hands and bravely venture into the stacks to find the books you need. Let the Dewey Decimal system be your guide. You can find the treasured land of your topic. I believe in you.
One issue that crops up a lot when researching an incredibly esoteric or bizarre topic: There are not a lot of books on the topic physically in the library. Luckily, Millsaps uses the Inter-library system. This means that when you go on Millsaps Library homepage, (which can be found on the navigation bar of our school’s homepage) you can order any book you want. The library can also order books, articles, films… even monographs of art.
After you’ve completed your book hoard, it’s time to go to the Internet. You’re probably already on Buzzfeed or Thought Catalog, so just open a new tab. It’s not going to kill you to delay knowing the contents “70 Amazing Kittens Who Can’t Even,” or “45 More Reasons why Listicles are Slowly Killing Journalism and Along with It Inspiring a Deep Existential Dread in Every Single Person with Half a Functioning Brain Left.” Go to our library’s homepage and do a preliminary search a few times using key phrases of your topic. You will notice that there are at least a few relevant articles, and on whole, a lot of nonsense that is vaguely related.
Here’s a little story: Once upon a time, I was a freshmen who was researching medieval conceptualizations of the personhood and embodiments of fetuses. I would use the library search engine, and get countless results about Syria. Not even ancient/medieval Syria, just contemporary Syria. Fortunately, I discovered a better method than just a general search. Here at Millsaps, we have access to hundreds of online field specific databases that can be accessed just by changing the search tab on the library homepage. There’s everything from Philosophy to Science. Pick the field where your topic falls, and you’re to the races, pal.
If you feel you’ve hit an impasse, or want to talk your topic out more, it’s time to talk to a professor, intelligent friend or trusted academic human being. They want to help you succeed, and if for some reason they don’t, I think you have bigger issues than a research paper to deal with. Which brings me to my final point: There are bigger things than this research project. Whatever grade you receive on the project will most likely not matter to you 30 years down the road. Research can be awesome, but it’s only a small awesome slice in the overall more awesome pie. I mean, don’t blow it off totally, but remember the best you can do is what you think is your personal best. Beyond that, the only thing left to do is maybe pray to Major Millsaps at his tomb and ask for his academic blessing. I have a suspicion most of our professors do the same.