Sunday, November 25, 2012

Why Research?

We all have professors who influenced us along the way. When I took Dr. Eva Thury's Young Adult Literature class in the summer of 2009, I went up to her after class and said, "I'm writing a young adult book but have no idea what I'm doing. Can you help me?" Dr. Thury put me through a 10-week YA bootcamp: reading several titles across the different genres, looking at academic literature, brainstorming theories, and even conducting interviews. Later, when I had the great opportunity to write a profile piece on a research professor, the choice was clear, I had to write about Dr. Thury. It's because of her I learned to love research and look at the world in different ways.

If it were possible for one small space to ooze knowledge, Dr. Eva Thury’s tiny office, nestled in the back corner of the fifth floor of Drexel University’s MacAlister building, would. Three bookcases line two of her four cinder block walls from floor to ceiling, each crammed with books lined up and stacked on top of one another, toppling over in some areas like rows of dominos.  Manila folders filled with papers teeter atop these stacks along with random DVDs, catalogs, and reports.  A distinct black and red binding of the widely popular “Twilight” rests on the same shelf as Euripides “Medea.”

Thury has helped lead Drexel University in a new area of research— one that does not use scientific measurements, hypothesis, or experiments but is, nonetheless, important.  Humanities research, specifically literary research, looks into the primary texts and their accompanying secondary sources to find meaning, or “a way of living your understanding,” Thury says.

There is a current perception that science research is more credible, because it deals with facts.  “[Scientists] have different models for what a fact is or how the universe works,” Thury says as she leans back in her chair.
“If you are turning up things nobody has known before and enhancing the understanding of the subject matter, that’s still research,” Thury says.

Qualitative research leaves behind the statistics, percentages, and raw data that quantitative research is known for.  Instead, it focuses on what is said, such as in an interview, what can be observed through participating in an event, or what can be interpreted from texts written across a wide range of place and time.

“In the humanities, we don’t prove things, we show them,” Thury says with a complacent smile.

The possibilities are limitless. However, the humanities researcher who focuses in literature usually works alone— and interpretations may differ. Time and critical thinking are a must.

According to Thury, this opens up research to a wide variety of ideas.  She has overseen many student projects, covering a range of topics within the guidelines she’s established, such as developing new ideas from previous course work, applying theory learned in one course to concepts from another, or embarking on an original writing project. Her students have tackled projects that classify categories of characters, analyze mythological elements in popular movies, and search for common themes in art and architecture across a wide variety cultures.

In her class Research Project Development, students prepare their findings for Research Day. Her students were awarded first place in their respective categories in both 2008 and 2009. Drexel University first started Research Day in 1999, when former president, Dr. Constantine Papadakis wanted to encourage Drexel researchers to share their work with the community.  Entries were limited to science, medicine, and engineering.  It wasn’t until 2007 that humanities research was included.

Currently, Thury’s research involves looking at the classics, in their original form, and comparing them to film adaptations.  This type of research requires not only a practical mindset, but an analytical and theoretical one, too.  With no set structure, solutions are never definite.

“English [isn’t] just curling up with Jane Austen and feeling warm and fuzzy— although I can do that too,” Thury quickly adds.

The meaning that lives within the lines is what Thury searches, compares, charts, and maps for connections to other works, other life, other meaning.  For her recent research on “Medea,” she specifically looked at one director’s interpretations and compares it to, not only his other work, but other directors’ and authors’ versions. This all gets compared back to the original version.

“I have a great belief that there’s a significant role in research for serendipity,” Thury says.

Chances are a question a researcher seeks out will lead them on a path of more questions in need of answers. The researcher may decide to put these new questions aside, and answer them in future projects.  Other times, it derails the research and sends it hurdling down another path.  Thury is no stranger to this concept.

When Thury attended Fordham University in New York for her undergraduate degree, she enrolled as a math major.  It wasn’t until she noticed a tiny footnote in the course requirements that stated she could take Latin instead of physics.  This opened a wormhole that plunked her down on the path leading her to a career in English.  Thury has been working as a professor in Drexel’s English department for 30 years.

“I chose the classics because I wanted to know something general and beautiful about human life,” Thury says.

Her own book, “Introduction to Mythology,” which can be found on the shelves of Hagerty Library Reserves, as well as in her mythology class, looks at a range of mythological stories different cultures and time.  She pulls out a copy from under her desk and opens it.  “It really turned out to be beautiful,” she says, running her fingers gingerly over the pages.  As a woman who is searching for what gives life meaning, she has a love for books— not just what the stories inside mean or could mean— but what they are.  She lingers on a picture that catches her eye and starts to explain its meaning.

Thury has spent much of her life in search of answers, uncovering the information that has piled up on the shelves of her office.  Each shelf is full of researchers’ questions and the answers they found.  These answers are about vampires, and centaurs, and coming of age, and Shakespeare, and love.  There is no table of data, or established P-value of how much evidence is in support of the researcher’s hypothesis, but is still research.  When she first started studying the classics, she says she “had this notion that literature was the best way of understanding human beings.  I still believe this.”


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  2. I <3 this. Being medically minded, but also a writer, I love the research aspect of writing. What an amazing professor!! Also--beautiful writing! You make me want to visit that tiny office and have a chat with her!

    1. I love that research can come in so many forms. It's probably my most favorite part of the writing process.


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