Class of 2019
Majors: Economics, History, Bioethics & Leadership
Reflecting on her experiences at Vanderbilt, Sam Smith shared that she never could have guessed the path that she would ultimately traverse. A senior majoring in Economics & History and an individually-designed major in Bioethics & Leadership, Sam came to Vanderbilt because of the university’s liberal arts environment and then fell in love with the campus and community. Research was not a part of her plan for her undergraduate years. Sam had always pictured research as white coats and pipettes which did not align with her interests. However, after taking a bioethics class in her sophomore year, Sam began to gain a greater understanding of research in the social sciences and found an opportunity to work at VUMC in bioethics research. Her main responsibility was extracting data for a study synthesizing existing scholarship for a literature review. Sam reflected that this experience “showed a literary approach to research” that stuck with her and ultimately drew her to history research.
Sam enrolled in HIST 3000W- The History Workshop, where she was tasked with completing a research paper that she likened to a small-scale thesis. Sam was encouraged to take ownership of the project and enjoyed assessing the existing body of historical knowledge, determining her own positions, and finding how her voice fit in to the extant literature. Sam was drawn to the rigorous reading and writing involved in humanities research and desired to “take the opportunity to add [her] voice” to historical scholarship while having the support and guidance of her mentors and peers at Vanderbilt. The History Honors program, which requires students to propose, research, and write a baccalaureate thesis over the course of three semesters, gave Sam the chance to further develop her research skills. When it came time to identify the topic for her proposed thesis, Sam reflected on her long-term interest in World War II due to the “time period, demographic groups, changes in technology, examples of leadership, and ethical challenges associated with the conflict”.
After her parents traveled to the Channel Islands, Sam was fascinated by the small islands that are Crown dependencies of Britain off the coast of France that were occupied by Nazis during World War II. She began by reading the scholarship and secondary literature, making lists of questions and determining what she found most interesting. Conversations with her cohort in the junior honors seminar helped to refine her question and initial arguments. She explained that the Channel Islands had been judged as collaborating too readily with the Germans but that resistance efforts were present, though they looked different from those in other places. Sam decided that she wanted to explore “how to bridge the conversations of collaboration and resistance” through her research. She then spent 8 days in the Channels Islands over the summer, completely immersed in the tiny islands going through archives, diaries, newspaper clippings, oral histories, and conducting interviews. Upon return to the US, Sam concentrated on synthesizing the information she gained while abroad and spent this semester writing the initial draft of the chapters with the support of her cohort, advisors, and mentors.
Through this project, Sam has identified that she truly loves to read and write and hopes to integrate these skills into her future career. Though the process is rigorous, she is not tired of the topic nor the project. Sam shared, “I am actually surprised in terms of how much I have enjoyed [working on my thesis] and how…heartily invested I am in the project.” Sam encourages students to talk to peers, faculty, and staff while at Vanderbilt because “people here want to help you” and these conversations can help to identify areas of curricular and co-curricular interest. She also described the importance of keeping an open mind, “I never saw myself doing research. People come in first year and try to figure everything out off the bat and completely planning their entire four year experience. I would not have decided to pursue this my freshman year but I have found a true passion for humanities research. Take the time to find and follow your own path.”