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What does non-STEM research actually look like at Dartmouth?

A: Image of Gabriel Gilbert '23; he is wearing a black aloha shirt with a red leaf pattern that runs from his shoulder down the left half of his shirt.

Great question. Here at Dartmouth, we use the word "research" all the time. If you're anything like me, when people said the word "research" I would inevitably think of a (mad) scientist in a dimly lit building, hunched over a laboratory table, passing fluorescent chemicals from beaker to beaker. While I am sure people at Dartmouth do that kind of research, that's not me–let's talk about what research looks like for the non-STEM folks.

I have done research at Dartmouth both in the humanities and the social sciences. The distinction between those two fields is sometimes a bit blurred, especially in a field like my major, linguistics. Yet while there is overlap, there are distinct methodologies and practices that characterize the research within those areas. Let me explain with some examples from my own experience to illustrate it as best I can.

Humanities research tends towards involving qualitative data. This means that rather than work with numbers and figures—quantitative data—you're instead involved in interrogating texts, surveying literature, and crafting original arguments. For example, during my time as a Sophomore Research Scholar, my project focused on the Native Hawaiian sovereignty movement and its relationship to Hawaiian language revitalization. I worked with my advisor to look at what other scholars were saying about sovereignty. As I read articles and books, I had guiding questions that stayed with me: were these scholars using Hawaiian language? Did these scholars talk about the role of language revitalization and the sovereignty movement? I'd meet with my advisor weekly to discuss my findings, get more recommendations as to what I should read, and even receive the contact information of scholars who could help me learn more about my topic. Humanities research is all about interrogating work, discussing anything and everything with your advisor, and eventually building an argument or analysis.

On the other hand, my social sciences research has looked very different. This is because the social sciences are different! Linguistics is just one field in the social sciences, but can involve texts, interviews, numerical data–anything and everything is on the table. If you're doing research in a branch of ethnic studies, your research may look a lot like humanities work. If you're into government or economics, numerical data and statistics will come up all the time. There is a ton of variation. For my linguistics research, my work has involved transcribing an interview, counting how many times a certain word comes up in a conversation, and organizing words from dozens of languages as I try to build a language database. I'd meet with my advisor every week to check in, get advice about my project, and receive feedback on my prose as I built abstracts and essays. It was much like humanities research, but involved a lot more poring over language data as opposed to reading articles from other scholars.

The theme to non-STEM research is that it's highly individualized. Every project is different, but methodologies are shared between the humanities and the social sciences all the time. Often, you'll find that you might like a certain kind of research and dislike another. That's okay! As you explore research opportunities at Dartmouth, never be afraid to ask a professor about what research with them might look like. Professors at Dartmouth are the best people ever, and they truly care about making the research process accessible to undergraduates. Hope this helps, and happy researching!

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