Participating in Undergraduate Research Programs & Navigating the Research Process, by Rocio Sanchez-Nolasco

Research programs were a vital part of my undergraduate education at UCLA. Over the course of my sophomore, junior, and senior years, I participated in Spring into Research (now Research Revealed), the Undergraduate Research Fellows Program (URFP), and the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program (URSP). These programs provided a unique opportunity for me to develop vital skills and become part of a network of undergraduate researchers. Each program provided structure, resources, and support at different stages of my research journey. They allowed me to explore my personal interests, grow as a researcher, and navigate my undergraduate career.

I first learned about undergraduate research from other Art History students by hearing about their thesis projects and personal academic pursuits. After gaining interest in conducting independent research, I applied to Spring into Research. The program’s workshops and assignments helped me understand the research process and realistically explore the possibility of conducting research. For example, as part of the program, I identified and interviewed Professor Charlene Villaseñor Black as a potential research mentor. She went on to become my research mentor during my junior year and my honors thesis advisor during my senior year. I also attended Undergraduate Research Week for the first time, where I saw different presentation styles for sharing research. Throughout all of these opportunities, I met other undergraduate students with varied, unique research interests and gained a more comprehensive understanding of what the research process entailed.

After Spring into Research, I started to think about how I would conduct art historical research. I decided to pursue the Undergraduate Research Fellows Program (URFP) with a broad idea for my research topic (contemporary Chicano art) and with the intention of working with primary archival materials at the Chicano Studies Research Center Library. The requirements for this program pushed me to delve further into my research interests and develop a concrete research plan. I put into practice essential aspects of undergraduate research, such as enrolling in a contract course, meeting regularly with my research mentor, and working on my time management skills.

My research topic changed when I pinpointed an unaddressed area of art historical discourse: the photography of contemporary Chicana artist Patssi Valdez. While researching Valdez, I expanded my public presentation skills by presenting my preliminary research findings during Undergraduate Research Week. This led to an opportunity to publish my research with Sanguine Gallery!

While Spring into Research served as a well-rounded introduction or blueprint for the research process, URFP became an opportunity to adjust this blueprint to cater to my own project. URFP served as a series of “firsts” that allowed me to take a hands-on approach to the research process.

While part of URFP, I also learned about Aleph—UCLA’s Journal for the Humanities and Social Sciences—and decided to join as a layout editor to gain new skills. As a layout editor, I learned how to use Adobe InDesign to help prepare the journal for print publication and gained insight into the publishing process. I continued with Aleph as an editor for the 2018-2019 edition from beginning to end. This allowed me to learn about the work that goes behind the journal, ranging from the selection process, the early development stages, copyediting, and the final formatting of the journal. This proved an insightful experience to learn more about other students’ research, gain hands-on experience, learn about the publishing process, as well as an opportunity to step into a different role and reflect on my own research.

After URFP, I wanted to showcase the research I had completed into a departmental honors thesis. While participating in URSP, I delved into the writing process and focused on transforming a series of endless notes and annotated bibliographies into a concrete research paper. My research project, “Chicana Agency in 1980s Los Angeles Punk: The Photography of Patssi Valdez,” focused on the photography of the contemporary Chicana artist Patssi Valdez through the lens of punk aesthetics and Chicana Feminism. It delved into the history of Los Angeles punk rock and explored the contributions of Chicanas to shed light on an understudied area of Valdez’s career. The final stretch of my project consisted of editing my thesis paper and pushing myself outside my comfort zone to present my research during Undergraduate Research Week for both the oral presentations and poster session. URFP allowed me to establish the foundation of my research project and clearly identify what I wanted to accomplish. URSP allowed me to fulfill these goals and to think about my research interests beyond my undergraduate education.

Each research program provided the unique opportunity to experience a sense of community. No matter how niche or broad your research interests may be or whatever stage your project is in, having the opportunity to connect with peer researchers reminds you that you are not the only one learning to navigate the research process for the first time and that conducting research does not have to be a solitary endeavor. Undergraduate research programs at UCLA provided me with valuable opportunities for personal and professional growth throughout my research journey.