Joy is often associated with things like food thanks to the popularity of Irma Rombauer’s, The Joy of Cooking, and more recently to the art of “tidying up”, thanks to Marie Kondo’s fresh approach to organizing and decluttering home and workspaces.
In “The Joy of Research”, however, Economist and New York Times Columnist, Paul Krugman, described the passion he holds for his work. “What I really love,” he wrote, “is doing the research—puzzling out how health systems work, what’s going on with monetary policy, how to access and interpret data about the wheat market.”
Pioneer scholars describe their research experience in similar terms, both the fact that it is like solving a puzzle and the joy and satisfaction it brings. This is due, in part, to the innate curiosity Pioneer scholars possess. The other contributing factor is the Pioneer Academic System through which students are guided by faculty mentors in using their curiosity and creativity to conduct original research within an apprentice model.
Across the board, Pioneer scholars share the love of learning. This is nurtured throughout the program as students apply to research areas, are placed in research concentrations and begin narrowing down their research questions in cohort sessions. The puzzles are presented, and students begin to think about which ones they want to tackle.
Areeba (math, 2020), a Pioneer scholar from Bangladesh, describes the sense of intrigue that was awakened. “You never really know what you’re going to find,” she said. “For instance, when you take the Pascal’s triangle and you draw a random line through it, you can figure out an entire new sequence.” She further described how this fueled her motivation. “I think it’s basically the thrill of trying to find something trying to match things up and trying to figure out if there’s some kind of relation or a connection you can bring out from the numbers…that’s what attracts me the most.”
Kaushal (psychology and neuroscience, 2020), a Pioneer scholar from the United States, echoed these sentiments. “Science exists for a reason, to help us understand the unknown parts of the world. This mystery is so enticing and captivating. Who doesn’t love a good mystery?”
Originality is one of the hallmarks of the Pioneer’s academic system. In a sense, students are being asked to “choose their own adventure” only the adventure is a puzzle whose pieces make more than one picture. As students move through the program, they delve into their research areas, gain foundational knowledge in their research concentrations and cohort sessions, and choose their own research paper topics. To get there, they are supported by their faculty mentor and peers in connecting new learning to prior knowledge and their backgrounds and interests. As the wheels start turning, sparks begin to fly. The possibilities start to formulate.
For Pioneer scholar Nourane (political science, 2019), from Tunisia, the opportunity to do original research had an impact on her academic life that went beyond Pioneer. Nourane always had an interest in doing research to understand things, however, it had only been an abstract concept to her before. She shared that at the outset of her Pioneer experience, she “wasn’t fluent in research.” It was a sense of agency and the internal drive to seek answers to her own questions that the Pioneer experience provided her. “I loved that freedom,” she said. Nourane also gained a concrete understanding of the research process, and when she was assigned a research paper for school, she had this foundation to draw upon.
Michael (political science, 2020), a Pioneer scholar from the United States, spoke of how doing original research brought with it the joy of discovering something that was previously unknown. “I think the joy comes from knowing that you understood something new that you didn’t know before,” he said. And Andrew (historical and cultural studies, 2020), a Pioneer scholar from the United States, pointed out the importance of nurturing this potential for the discovery of new ideas within each individual. “I think research is crucial because of the potential that every single person on this planet has to offer to contribute to the knowledge that is in this world.”
It is Pioneer scholars’ curiosity and creativity that fuels their passion to uncover new ideas in order to conduct original research in response to real-world problems. However, it is also the rigor of the academic system that pushes students out of their comfort zone and contributes to the thrill and reward of the experience; by design, Pioneer’s academic system teaches students how to connect their work to the wider world. Pioneer scholars conduct their research and write their papers with the purpose of educating/informing others, and ultimately, to contribute to the body of knowledge in their respective fields. Sharing the fruits of this intense labor in the form of a college-level research paper comes with a great deal of satisfaction.
Areeba (math, 2020) added that the potential of having her research paper published, was a motivator, especially as a high school student doing college-level work. “If you have one with your name on it and it gets published, you have something to validate yourself with. But it was still the passion for learning and putting her research out there that Areeba found most rewarding. “That was most valuable for me,” she said. “Finding new things, and also maybe sharing it with other people that hear something new.”
About the fact that his research is tied to a newspaper column, that there are people he is accountable to, Paul Krugman wrote, “it more or less forces me to keep learning new tricks, to keep scoping out areas I’d never thought much about before. Then it forces me to find a way to talk about those areas in plain English…And I love it.”
Pioneer scholars get to think about how to solve problems by interpreting data, making connections between data sets, and uncovering new ideas. And this immersion in research sparks their innate curiosity and fuels their sense of mystery and discovery. But it is in sharing their findings with the scientific community that sparks the ultimate joy.