Research projects open doors for student interns
Every day, Vanderbilt students head into the university’s libraries to conduct research toward their degrees. For some of these students, the chance to do research in the library opens doors for their careers.
That doesn’t surprise Carolyn Dever, dean of the College of Arts and Science. “Students benefit from their work in the library just as they do from work in any other laboratory on our campus: to lay their hands on materials, to explore and investigate, gives them a chance to advance their learning experientially,” she said.
Liz Norell, who received a master’s in political science this year, helped identify items for exhibition from the pre-Senate papers recently donated to Vanderbilt’s Special Collections by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and his wife, Honey Alexander. (See story) Working with archivists to sort through the 660 cubic feet of materials has provided an entirely new dimension to Norell’s education.
“As a student of American politics, this has been amazing,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to learn about history that’s not been recorded yet.”
Working on the Alexander Papers has also allowed Norell, who also holds a master’s in library science, to see what it would be like to be an academic librarian. She describes her internship as a “perfect marriage” of research, library skills and politics.
“It’s been a terrific process of discovery about the (gubernatorial) campaign,” Norell said. “By reading through the documents, you can watch the campaign’s strategy develop and adapt.”
For Brad Cayer, who graduated in 2010 from the Owen Graduate School of Management, his role as a research assistant through Owen’s Walker Library opened up bigger doors for him—helping to research a book for then-Gov. Phil Bredesen.
Cayer was working as a research coach for undergraduate students in Owen’s summer Accelerator program while working toward his MBA in health care there. “I helped the students learn to find information quickly and effectively, and also learn to look at it with a critical eye,” he said.
His success as a research coach led to an opportunity to work as a researcher on Bredesen’s book about health care. Fresh Medicine: How to Fix Reform and Build a Sustainable Health Care System was released in the fall of 2010 as a response to the landmark health care bill that Congress passed earlier that year.
“This project took what I was learning in my MBA program and combined it with research at a very high level,” Cayer said. “The team would meet weekly to go over everyone’s research, and then we’d go out and do more research. We were focusing on the implications of the new health care policy.”
He credits his work as a research coach at Owen’s Walker Library for giving him the ability and opportunity to work on the Bredesen assignment. “Anything I know about research I know because of the folks at the Walker Library,” he says. “I was able to really focus on critical thinking—looking at sources, source bias, all those elements that give a source integrity. This project gave me real-world experience.”