Student Spotlight – Tania Nasrollahi

Tania Nasrollahi and her mentor, Dr. Kevan Harris

Meet third-year undergraduate researcher Tania Nasrollahi!

Tania majors in Sociology and Anthropology and is a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow. Her research project is titled “Internal Perceptions of Iranian-American Ethno-Racial Boundaries.”

How did you first get interested in your research project?

I became interested in my project when I suddenly experienced an external shift in how people perceived my racial status. When I briefly lived in Ohio, people saw my Iranian identity as more “exotic.” Comparatively, in Los Angeles, I am often seen as white. Ethno-racial identity is a big topic of debate among individuals living in the US who identify as Iranian. A survey recently revealed that older Iranian-Americans are more likely to identify as white than younger Iranian-Americans. I am interested in the social contexts and factors that lead one to arrive at or even shift their perception of their ethno-racial identity.

What has been the most exciting aspect of your research so far?

The most exciting part of my research so far has been exploring the literature and expanding the way I use readings in my understanding of a research project. Rather than exclusively looking at readings as they pertain to Iranian-American identity, I’ve been reading sociological studies of race that have expanded the ways I think about race and ethnicity more generally.

What has surprised you about your research or the research process?

I am still surprised by how different academic writing is from what I initially thought it was. I have learned a lot about writing since starting my project, and I am enjoying the process of becoming a better writer. I am still learning, but I am comforted by the fact that many of those I look up to have been where I am.

What is one piece of advice you have for other UCLA students thinking about doing research?

Pick a topic you are wholeheartedly interested in, because you will be thinking about it for months, at least! But also expect your project to change as you start the research process. Additionally, get to know your mentor before signing a research contract. I am so grateful to have found such an involved, dedicated mentor. However, it can be difficult for faculty to find time to support new researchers. Consider the research fit between you and your potential mentor, but make sure that you have a good working dynamic as well.

What effect do you hope your research has in your field, at UCLA, in your community, or in the world?

My interest in social science research is fueled by my desire to address people’s lived experiences through my work. The field of sociology interests me because of the influence society has on the individual. Any sociological research that can speak to this dynamic reveals something fundamental about how we live. At UCLA and beyond, I want to continue the study of racial boundaries, immigration, acculturation, and diaspora. I want for people both to see others and feel seen in my research.