This week led to yet another new understanding of what my research entails. As I now understand it, my main project is to develop an instrument to evaluate mobile makerspaces for their effectiveness in general and effectiveness at encouraging diverse groups to "make" in particular. I've found my biggest and most immediate struggles with this are (1) there's little research literature focused on the strength of evaluation instruments, so my reading will likely involve skimming through largely irrelevant papers and hoping they address their evaluation instruments somewhere in their discussion, and (2) we don't have a mobile makerspace yet for me to evaluate. As a result, I've spent most of my time this week thinking rather than actually doing anything, which, although it's essential, makes me feel very unproductive and worried about my sufficiency as a research intern.
Luckily, life outside of the lab has been less stressful. I went to back to back concerts earlier this week, both for pretty low prices, and had a blast at both, even though they involved a lot of standing around. Most of the REU also went to the U.S. National Whitewater Center last weekend and had dinner together afterwards, which were really fun ways to hang out and try new things. We're having a dinner party again tonight; I'm very excited to get to eat food and hang out with all these really cool people I don't get to see as often as I'd like.
Coming up next week: more fun times with REU friends, painting plans for the makerspace, a new model for gender identity visualization (!!!), and hopefully a more promising form or direction to my research!
Most of my lab work this week has still been preparatory. I've done more preliminary readings for my project, I've sketched out some ideas I want to realize in the makerspace (which I won't list here since they're surprises for my friends and family), and I've gotten a greater idea of what exactly I'm supposed to be doing this summer for my project. Currently my focus is determining what questions to ask on surveys both before and after an experience with a mobile makerspace. In a way, I'll get the chance to pilot this in a couple weeks when a group of 6-12th graders visits the makerspace.
I've also gotten the green light to ask my own subquestion of sorts to my project's bigger question regarding mobile makerspaces. Time and resources permitting, I will get to collect data on individuals of non-binary genders regarding their thoughts on makerspaces.
This week's been more exciting outside of the lab. I've had opportunities to explore the campus further, both on my own and with friends. That involved walking through the campus's botanical gardens (twice!), watching a movie on a lawn on campus, going to Smoothie King with my lab partners during the work day, partaking in a low ropes course with both the CS and chemistry REU's, and planning many more outings you'll likely hear about next week!
At this point my biggest concern is whether I will have enough material to make a worthwhile poster at the end of the summer. My hope is it's a concern I have now that drives me to do enough work to make everything okay by the time it's all over. I'm also hoping to hang out and grow closer with the others in this REU, even more so than we already are.
Also, I still haven't cooked. Two weeks down, seven to go.
Full disclosure: this first week is a bit of a drag. It's the week of logistics, of assignments, of certifications, of background readings, of all the preparations you can think of before, at long last, being set free to do whatever research you're doing. It'll wear you out, too, because you're doing all of this while rapidly socially integrating yourself with your new peers, adjusting to the eight hour workday, and figuring out what this "cooking your own food" concept is. But it's survivable.
I'm here on my first extended stay outside of my home state of Missouri, and I arrived on campus knowing nobody beyond some light Facebook investigating and a couple online greetings. Luckily, I was in good company, so it didn't take long for each of us to reach out and make new friends. Still, I hope I'll be able to find a little time this summer outside of the lab to hang out with everyone else in the program, even if that only means grabbing lunch.
I'd also never had to cook all of my meals for myself prior to leaving Missouri. I knew how to make my own lunch, and I could jumble together breakfast well enough. Dinner, on the other hand, is a greater struggle. Lately I've been interpreting dinner as "second lunch," but that probably means I'm not cooking as much as I should be. My running plan is to cook dinner sometime in the next week, and if that's as disastrous as I fear it could be, then I may resort to going vegetarian for dinner. (Can't burn a salad, right?)
Something I've already learned related to all of the above is that the summer is a MUCH better time to start a fitness goal than New Year's in the winter. I've managed to maintain a morning run routine this first week. Hopefully it'll combat my terrible diet habits, especially if this whole "cooking" thing doesn't work out.
Now onto what this whole program's about: the research! My project is to design activities and means by which to mobilize makerspaces, which is exactly what it sounds like. In particular I will probably be working with Charlotte's makerspace with respect to its 3D printers, digital embroidery machines, and the numerous little contraptions being unboxed in the makerspace as I write this. The current social goal in mobilizing makerspaces is to make them more accessible to and enjoyable for diverse groups of people who wouldn't visit one otherwise. There are already efforts going into targeting makerspaces towards women in community colleges, though personally I hope to focus on those in poor socioeconomic classes who may not be able to afford membership fees, college tuition, etc.
Needless to say, the first week is always a busy one, sometimes with ups and sometimes with downs. But now it's over and it's time to move on to the rest of the program.