I remember making a beeline for Associate Director Holly Rivers’ office my first year at Notre Dame. I was an anxious anthropology and pre-health major frantically asking “How do I start research? How do I join the International Scholars Program?”

She looked me in the eyes and asked me, calmly yet directly, “What does research mean to you?” 

I remember sinking into my chair a bit, listening to the air grow silent around me. What did research mean to me? My mind grew blank as I simply did not know the answer yet. Thus, marking the beginning of a four-year journey. 

I rushed to Professor Vania Smith-Oka’s office, asking her about what anthropology research entailed. She introduced me to Professor Rahul Oka, and we ended up talking for three hours about our interests, anthropology, research, life, etc. I eventually joined the International Scholars Program with Professor Oka as my faculty advisor during my sophomore year. 

Fast forward to the present: I am now a senior in the program working on my anthropology senior thesis, writing a brief article about my experience at the 2022 American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting (Nov. 9th-13th). As I flew into Seattle for the meeting, I was beaming with excitement. I was ready to soak in tremendous amounts of anthropological wisdom. As I read the descriptions of each talk, I rushed to each to intently listen to the speakers. One panel that stood out to me in particular was “Fieldwork Confessionals Redux: Unsettling Ethnography.” The panelists discussed how to grapple with an inevitable outcome of ethnographic work: secrets or confessions. My senior thesis with Professor Oka focuses on the connections between the mental health of Asian American university students and the broader Asian American parental network. The bulk of my research will be with ethnographic data, the primary qualitative research method of anthropologists, where I will ask students questions about their personal experiences relating to their experiences with their parent’s connections to the broader Asian American community they belong to. This panel gave me insight into how to conduct this research while also considering what roles anthropologists have in the land of the contradictory obligations of relationality, research, and academic writing. 

Bouncing from talk to talk, I found many of my curiosities colliding with one another. I attended discussions that engaged with my interests in healthcare and the implications of its systemic structure. I also found presentations relating to my directed study with Professor Chesson, Emily Swiatek, and Greta Hillesheim about how Notre Dame’s policing, religion, and space affect the culture surrounding sex on ND’s campus. All the anthropology-related projects I had been involved with during my four years seemed to collide. I thoroughly enjoyed my time. Not only because of the academic panels I was able to attend, but because of the questions I asked myself after talking to various panelists, graduate students, and anthropologists in coffee lines.

As I was flying back from Seattle to Chicago, I found myself thinking about first-year Anna. The AAA Annual Meeting provided me with a sense of clarity. So many of the topics I was curious about were discussed in one place, and I was able to deeply engage with my academic interests. It provided me with insights into post-graduate life and with many tools to move forward with in my senior thesis and directed study. But most of all, it led me closer to an answer to the question, “What does research mean to you?”