Tabitha SpenceGeography Senior Tabitha A. Spence

Necessary Challenges

The Intellectual Entrepreneurship Program was brought to my attention this past fall, along with the McNair Scholars Program. I am so fortunate that I was given the opportunity to apply to and be accepted into both programs. Consequently, I have learned more than I could have imagined about the world of academia- the steps to getting into grad school, how to find a niche once there, and how to do academic research and write academic papers for publications. Most importantly, I came to realize that, not only am I quite capable of attaining a PhD, but that I have a desire to further engage my mind in the realm of academia and I feel empowered to do academic research.

A semester ago, the idea of attending graduate school titillated my curiosity, but was never something I was certain I needed to do. I instead entertained dreams of improving the state of the world through activism, organizing people, mobilizing resources, and paradigm shifting. Those dreams still burn within me, but I now see how expanding the reservoirs of knowledge and understanding for humanity (through research and writing) can be employed to attain the same means. The more truth and perception people have, the less likely social injustices, tyranny, and violations of human rights are to occur. While my strategy has shifted as a result of the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Program and the McNair Scholars Program, my determination to remain a part of that larger struggle has not.

Upon joining these two programs, I quickly learned a number of things. The first is that I, just as many, many others who share similar social and economic backgrounds to mine, possess the vitality, the intelligence, and the chutzpah required to enter into the upper-echelons of the academic world by earning a doctoral degree. Despite the deterrents and challenges placed before me as a first generation, female college student, I have come to realize that my peers, supervisors, mentors, and family members are not standing in the way of my rather ambitious goals, but are on my side, cheering me on as I transform into that which I never knew I could become.

Secondly, I have discovered that there is much more to research than mixing chemicals in a lab. This semester I have been working with my mentor and a professor advisor on planning a summer research project in Pakistan on the Indus River. Planning alone is much more extensive than I anticipated when I decided to do a research project. I am so fortunate to have had such helpful mentors to guide me through the planning processes of writing a research proposal, putting together a budget, requesting funding and support from multiple entities, doing the training and proposal for the Institutional Review Board, networking to gain helpful contacts, writing and sending inquiries to potential research participants, developing interview questions, and practicing conducting ethnographic interviews.

As a direct result of all of the planning, I feel fully prepared to spend two months of this summer in Pakistan conducting interviews on the local needs for the Indus River (for agriculture, industry, electricity generation, and domestic use), the current water management and allocation structure and strategies of the government of Pakistan, and the social and ecological impacts of said strategies. Additionally, I will be writing a few papers for publication based on the results of this research project. My professor gave me free reign for this independent research project, which has very much enabled me to realize that, while a ton of work is poured into doing research and doing it properly, I am quite capable of doing it with the support of others guiding me along the way. It has been an extremely empowering experience for me, especially when graduate students respond with, "You're only a junior? Wow" upon hearing about the project. I would like to continue working on the project even after I leave UT, as Natural Resource Management, Environmental Policy, and International Studies peek my interests. I will collaborate with a graduate student who will be conducting similar research on the Indus River in India this summer to compare our findings, and hopefully produce a jointly written paper for publication.

The ultimate lesson learned for me as a result of my involvement in the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Program (among other programs and organizations) came in the form of major burnout for a while due to over-committing myself and having far too many obligations. I have learned how to recognize my own limitations and to say no to proposed responsibilities (even if they sound like fun) if I can't handle putting more on my plate. While this semester was rather hectic, I still had a great experience and gathered what I wanted from everything I did. The many experiences and responsibilities strengthened various aspects of who I am, thus better prepared me for where I am going.