By Stacey Parker
Natalie Lyijynen knew she wanted to pursue research in college. Heading to the University of Michigan, she joined LHSP (now LSWA) and the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP). She applied to multiple research positions through UROP. Although nothing initially worked out, she broadened her search and applied to a creative writing position at Michigan Quarterly Review.
Natalie said, “I immediately liked the atmosphere and was very interested in their next issue on the global water crisis. From my time at MQR, I learned the value of interdisciplinary scholarship and decided that I didn’t want to be pre-med. Now I am double majoring in Biology, Health and Society and the Program in the Environment, hoping to pursue environmental law.”
The UROP application process was “pretty simple.” Natalie shared, “I answered some questions about my intended major, what research I wanted to pursue, etc. Then, there were short answer questions about why UROP and why I wanted to do research.” Reflecting on being in both UROP and LSWA, she said, “UROP gave me an opportunity to do research and LSWA gave me a community and group of friends in the beginning of the school year.”
UROP allows students to choose how many credits to take for the research, which corresponds to their time commitment. Natalie earned two credits each semester, being six hours a week working at MQR. UROP students also take a one-hour seminar every other week, providing a space for discussing research skills, resumes, and cover letters. Natalie was MQR’s first UROP student.
During her time at MQR, Natalie worked on two projects. The first one was researching and soliciting writers for MQR’s Spring 2020 issue on the global water crisis. Her second project was a set of interviews. “After a semester working and realizing how providing poems, short stories, and essays about environmental issues can communicate to a wider audience, I wanted to dive more into this in my own interview project. I interviewed five artists/writers and scientists who work on climate and water issues. I wanted to learn more about the scientist as artist, as well as the barriers they face.”
Natalie points to LSWA as a source of community, helping her “meet people and branch out,” but it also provided the opportunity to grow in skills. Natalie took Angela Berkeley’s Monsters and Beasts class as well as Mark Tucker’s drawing and painting class. “Both of these [classes] helped me to observe more closely and pay attention to detail. I improved as a writer and as an artist, and this went hand-in-hand with being able to work at MQR where I was interviewing writers and artists.”
Natalie shared how both her visual art experience in high school and in Mark Tucker’s drawing and painting class and her biology classes aided in her research. “This combination of skills and experience helped me immensely when I was interviewing in the winter. I was able to discuss artists and their work, in addition to having a basic understanding of ecology and biology terms when talking about scientific research,” she said.
Hannah Webster, Managing Editor at MQR, shared “MQR has a long history of interdisciplinary projects. Our pages often include writing from scientists and historians alongside poets and novelists. The Water Issue Natalie helped with had both an essay by a climate scientist on melting ice caps and a poem about an octopus stuck in a parking garage! There are endless opportunities for interdisciplinary thinking, and often it just takes imagination to see the connections between seemingly disparate disciplines and ideas. Natalie brought a lot of that imagination to the table. Often we trap ourselves with one idea of what ‘research’ can look like, but we wanted to honor more subjective forms of research like interviews as a way of exploring the relationship between the arts and science.”
Doing research focused on the connection between the arts and sciences was “incredibly interesting.” Through this first year at Michigan, Natalie has affirmed her interest to study biology and environment, and she says that in her own life she sees “how connected they are to creative skills.” She also said, “Interdisciplinary studies and research are becoming more popular and I understand why. I think it’s a great way to deepen understanding and will prepare the next generation to communicate and work to solve the climate crisis. My research was not traditional, especially not compared to my other classmates in UROP’s health sciences group, but I really enjoyed it and learned a lot from the experience.”
If you can’t tell already, Natalie recommends future Lloyd Scholars to consider UROP if they want to pursue research their first year. She also suggests getting to know professors and peers as research opportunities are commonly spread through word of mouth. She also said, “There are many paths and opportunities to research at the University of Michigan and don’t feel like UROP is your only option, but I am grateful that I did it my freshman year.”
MQR has interns through UROP and the English department. Hannah said how it’s a beneficial way to see a literary journal’s process from behind the scenes and wants to share this with future Lloyd Scholars. “Every year we set and meet the goal of getting more undergraduate voices involved with the journal, and they have been a big part of shaping our voice and our thinking. Whether it is Natalie's wonderful interviews on our website or MQR Mixtape, our new imprint which our undergraduates were instrumental in conceptualizing. But whether you are applying for an opportunity at MQR, with another UROP Project, or trying something else entirely, I encourage you to take a stake in the work you are doing and put your ideas out there. We learn a lot for the students who get involved with the journal and love it when they are brave enough to share their vision with us.”