Student Spotlight: Brittany Neihardt

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Brittany Neihardt

How did you decide on the topic of your research?

My research topic was inspired by my position as a Doyle Engaging Difference Fellow with the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. In addition, I love reading and believe that works of fiction can be very powerful. Thus, I combined the two interests into a project that would examine the ability of fiction to influence the reader’s perception of a religion.

How did you become involved in research?

I did research in high school and I am currently in a political data class. Independent and original research is also a required component of my fellowship.

What was your favorite part about the research process?

This may sound odd but I like crunching the numbers. I think one of the most fascinating processes in research is coming up with original ways to look at the data, different tests to run, and new statistics to apply. Your conclusions will come directly from your data analysis but the most creative element (other than topic development) is deciding how you want to use the data you’ve just collected.

What was the most challenging part of the research process?

My particular project includes surveys. By far, the most challenging aspect of my project was creating those surveys. Crafting the questions asked in a survey requires precision and care. A small change in phrasing will change how the subject interprets and responds to the question. I had to be careful with my word choice so that all the survey respondents would interpret the question in the same way (and in the way I had intended the question to be asked).

What was the most unexpected part of the research process?

Since my project asks many personal and controversial questions, I was concerned about the sincerity of the subjects’ responses. I wanted to be sure that students answered truthfully, even if that answer is not necessarily considered a popular opinion. Of course, I cannot know how many students were sincere in their answers. However, after looking at the preliminary responses, it seems like students were open and honest about their opinions. I was pleasantly surprised (and grateful) to see such candid answers to difficult questions.

How was Georgetown able to support you during the research process?

I have received a lot of support from the Georgetown community throughout my research process. First and foremost, my mentors at the Berkley Center (Melody Fox Ahmed and Sara Singha) helped me develop my research concept and asked me question that would encourage me to challenge my ideas and think critically. I also met with University professors that offered advice on how to best construct my surveys. Finally, my research is being conducted within the Georgetown community. Professors have graciously allowed me to come into their classrooms and use their class time to administer my surveys.

The Georgetown University Undergraduate Research Symposium, and the university as a whole, is committed to fostering interdisciplinary, intellectual dialogue. What is one experience that you have had at Georgetown that reflects this commitment?

As I mentioned above, professors have offered me a lot of helpful advice and recommendations for pursuing this research project. One particular example clearly demonstrates Georgetown’s commitment to interdisciplinary dialogue. I am currently in a political data class with Professor Wesley Joe from the Government Department. Professor Joe met with me outside of office hours to review the surveys I had created and to offer helpful tips for collecting and analyzing my data. While my project is not included in his area of study, he was extremely willing to assist me in my project and my data collection has become much more efficient as a result.

Describe your research in one sentence.

I am analyzing how reading fiction that includes religious themes and imagery can affect the reader’s perception of those religions by administering surveys to students before and after they read the text.

What is your advice for other undergraduates who are interested in pursuing research at Georgetown?

My first piece of advice is to 1) pursue your research interests and 2) start early. I think it is a shame when students choose not to pursue what can be very interesting and rewarding research experience. Secondly, if a student starts sooner rather than later, the student will be less stressed and the results will be more involved and in-depth.

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